Researchers have recently discovered that humans have a previously undiscovered extra set of salivary glands right inside our heads. Makes one wonder if there are any more seemingly obvious mystery organs we are yet to uncover. Because as you might know, we discovered what a clitoris looks like in the 2000s — seriously, you have to thank Helen O'Connel for that.
In this case, the "unknown entity" was discovered by an accident. A team of researchers was studying prostate cancer patients. They were utilizing a kind of advanced imaging method called PSMA PET/CT (prostate-specific membrane antigen positron emission tomography/computerized tomography ) — PSTA is a marker for prostate cancer. Although, this time, it marked something else too.
Wouter Vogel from the Netherlands Cancer Institute, explains: "As far as we knew, the only salivary or mucous glands in the nasopharynx are microscopically small, and up to 1,000 are evenly spread out throughout the mucosa. So, imagine our surprise when we found these."
So far, we've been aware of three major salivary glands: parotid, submandibular, and sublingual. These have a role in the digestion of food.
People have about a thousand minuscule salivary glands spread throughout the oral cavity and the aerodigestive tract. But these are too small to be seen with the naked eye.
The gland system discovered by Vogel's team is much larger, it's behind the nose, above the palate, and near the center of our head.
Matthijs Valstar, the first author of the study and an oral surgeon says "The two new areas that lit up turned out to have other characteristics of salivary glands as well." They are called tubarial glands because they are located right above the torus tubarius. The glands were likely not discovered earlier due to their anatomically inaccessible location under the base of the skull.
The team suggests that this region should be avoided during radiation treatments as salivary glands are known to be especially susceptible to radioactive damage.
Preliminary data based on retrospective analysis of 723 patients who took radiation treatment seems to support this idea. Subjecting this area to radiation results in a higher likelihood of complications.