It’s hard to imagine that we would be discovering new organs in the human body, but that’s what has just happened.
According to new research led by the Netherlands Cancer Institute and the University of Amsterdam, we now know that our body contains a pair of previously overlooked and clinically relevant salivary glands that are located between our nose and our throat.
The salivary glands produce the saliva required for chewing, swallowing, digestion, tasting, and dental hygiene.
It is believed these new salivary glands were never discovered until now because they are hidden between the nose and throat. They can only be seen with special PET x-rays, a sensitive x-ray used in the detection of prostate cancer spread.
Researchers were using these PET X-rays in a scan designed to look for tumorous growths in people who had prostate cancer when they came upon the new organ.
“People have three sets of large salivary glands, but not there,” said study author Wouter Vogel, a radiation oncologist at The Netherlands Cancer Institute. “As far as we knew, the only salivary or mucous glands in the nasopharynx are microscopically small, and up to 1000 are evenly spread out throughout the mucosa. So, imagine our surprise when we found these.”
While everyone agrees that this is a new discovery, some scientists won’t consider it a new organ, just another location of an existing organ.
In any event, this discovery has immediate implications because it is known that radiation destroys or damages salivary glands. Doctors will now avoid irradiating this area.