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Salivary gland

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Grading salivary gland cancer

Grading is used for mucoepidermoid carcinomas (MECs), adenoid cystic carcinomas, adenocarcinoma not otherwise specified (NOS) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) of the salivary gland.

To find out the grade of salivary gland cancer, the pathologist looks at a tissue sample from the salivary gland under a microscope. The pathologist gives salivary gland cancer a grade of low, intermediate or high.

The grade is based on the differentiation of the cancer cells. Differentiation is how the cancer cells look and behave compared to normal cells.



The cancer cells are well differentiated. They look and act much like normal cells.

Low-grade cancer cells tend to be slow growing and are less likely to spread.


The cancer cells are moderately differentiated, which means they don’t look and act exactly like normal cells.


The cancer cells are poorly differentiated, or undifferentiated. They don’t look and act like normal cells.

High-grade cancer cells tend to grow quickly and are more likely to spread.

Knowing the grade gives your healthcare team an idea of how quickly the cancer may be growing and how likely it is to spread. Doctors use the grade along with the stage of the salivary gland tumour to plan your treatment. The grade can also help the healthcare team predict how you might respond to treatment.


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