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An organ 1.5 inches in length on average has been hiding behind our nose since now. Researchers at the Netherlands Cancer Institute have accidentally discovered it while using a combination of CT scans and positron emission tomography (PET) scans called PSMA PET-CT to study prostate cancer.
Located in the upper part of the throat in the nasopharynx region behind the nose the new organ is a set of salivary glands about 1.5 inches (3.9 centimeters) in length on average. The researchers believe that the glands help lubricate and moisten the upper throat behind the nose and mouth.
As the new glands lie over a piece of cartilage called the torus tubarius, the discoverers have proposed to name them "tubarial salivary glands". The discovery was reported online in the journal Radiotherapy and Oncology on September 23.
The new organ was reportedly detected while researchers at the Netherlands Cancer Institute were performing PSMA PET-CT scanning on a prostate cancer patient.
The PSMA PET-CT scanning involves the injection of a radioactive "tracer" into the patient. This tracer binds well to the protein PSMA, which is elevated in prostate cancer cells. Studies have shown that PSMA PET-CT scanning is better than conventional imaging at detecting metastasized prostate cancer. PSMA PET-CT scanning is also known to be very effective at detecting salivary gland tissue, which is also high in PSMA.
To confirm the discovery, the researchers studied images of 100 patients and found that all of them had the tubarial salivary glands. As the focus was on prostate cancer, almost all the patients (99 of them) were men. Further, when they dissected that nasopharynx region from two cadavers from a human body donation program, it was found that the newfound region consisted of mucosal gland tissue and ducts draining into the nasopharynx.
Until now, humans were known to have only three large salivary glands: one under the tongue, one under the jaw and one at the back of the jaw, behind the cheek. Apart from these, there are a thousand microscopic salivary glands that are scattered throughout the mucosal tissue of the throat and mouth, Netherlands Cancer Institute radiation oncologist Wouter Vogel said in a statement, adding that the discovery of the new set of glands came as a surprise to them.
The discovery of the new organ could be important for cancer treatment as damage to the salivary glands due to radiation can cause trouble eating, swallowing or speaking, which can impact a patient's quality of life, said the researchers.
As the presence of these tubarial salivary glands was not known yet, doctors have not tried to avoid radiation in that region. When the research team examined records of more than 700 cancer patients treated at the University Medical Center Groningen, they found that the more radiation the patients had received in the unknown area, the more side effects they reported from their treatment.
The new discovery could alert doctors to avoid these new glands during radiation treatment, which means fewer side effects for cancer patients.
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