Tom Gwynn, Parotid Gland Cancer and Chewing Tobacco
Fifty-year-old Tom Gwynn, a former San Diego Padres player, has announced that he has parotid salivary gland cancer. Although previous surgery in 1997 and 2007 for parotid tumors showed no malignancy, Gwynn was not so lucky this last time around. Gwynn suspects his history of chewing tobacco is behind the cancer.
A link between tobacco chewing and parotid cancer is unclear
Gwynn is quoted in the San Diego Union Tribune as saying that during his latest visit to the surgeon, “They took out three lymph nodes and did all the tests and the results showed cancer in the parotid.” The promising news is that the doctors say there was not a lot of cancer and that they caught it early.
The Hall of Famer will be starting radiation and chemotherapy soon, and the treatments will last 7 to 8 weeks. He also plans to look into a possible link between his long-time habit of chewing tobacco and the development of the cancer. Gwynn returned to chewing tobacco after his first two parotid surgeries.
Although studies of any possible relationship between parotid cancer and chewing tobacco have not been done, there are several that have looked at an association between smoking and salivary gland cancer. In one study published in Cancer in 2008, investigators found a significant 66 percent increased risk of parotid gland tumors among people who ever smoked, and more than double the risk of tumors among those who were current smokers.
Approximately 70 to 80 percent of all salivary gland neoplasms affect the parotid gland, and about 20 to 25 percent of them are malignant. (Last year, Cleveland Cavaliers player LeBron James underwent surgery for a benign parotid tumor.) According to the National Cancer Institute, salivary gland tumors are rare, affecting 2.5 to 3.0 people per 100,000 per year. Cancerous salivary gland neoplasms represent 3 to 5 percent of all head and neck cancers, and most patients are age 60 or older.
Exposure to ionizing radiation has been implicated as a cause of these cancers, but in most cases the origins are unknown. Occupations associated with an increased risk include rubber manufacturing, asbestos mining, and plumbing.
The practice of chewing tobacco has been banned in minor league baseball, although some will argue that the ban is weak. It has yet to be banned from major league play. Gwynn’s bout with parotid cancer may not be proven to be related to chewing tobacco—yet--but perhaps his case will draw attention to a potentially dangerous and certainly unsavory practice.
National Cancer Institute
Sadetzki S et al. Cancer 2008 Mar; 112(9): 1974-82
San Diego Tribune