160 years ago, “Gray Anatomy” author Drs. Henry Gray compiled the most comprehensive text on the human body. Nevertheless, after dozens of revisions and new editions, doctors are still searching for how we came to be.
One such spot, discovered by researchers at the Netherlands Cancer Institute, points to a possible fourth set of salivary glands, located at a location where the nasal cavity meets the throat.
If the new organs are confirmed, it will be the first in nearly three centuries, the Times reported.
Previously, doctors deemed the salivary gland to be just three sets of pairs: each near the ear, under the jaw, and under the tongue.
Evidence of previously unknown organs was published last month in the journal Radiotherapy and Oncology, despite the fact that the author and surgeon to study prostate cancer, Dr. Mathews Walter studied.
He and his colleagues observed unfamiliar parts while studying head scans created in specific high detail. There, in the center of the scanned skull, were two narrow tissue structures located just above the Eustachian tubes that connect the ears to the throat.
Further studies using dissected cadavers revealed that the pair of organs was structurally similar to the salivary glands located below the tongue. They also appeared to connect to a duct, suggesting salivary flow.
“The location is not very accessible, and you need very sensitive imaging to detect it,” radiation oncologist Dr. Said Router Vogel, who co-wrote the study.
Vogel also pointed to anecdotal evidence of brain cancer patients who suffer from chronic dry mouth after radiation therapy. Salivary glands are very fragile tissue, doctors explained and commonly avoided during cancer treatment to prevent permanent damage. Vogel said that without knowing these glands, “no one tried to leave them.”
However, some of his peers hesitate to label them true organs. A radiologist at the University of Pennsylvania, Drs. Alvand Hasankhani, who was not involved in the study, reported that the salivary gland network contains about 1,000 “minor” glands. He suggested to the Times that new imaging technology may have stumbled into better ways to detect them.