Study: Salivary Gland Biopsy Is Safe Diagnostic Method

Margarida Maia, PhD avatar

by Margarida Maia, PhD |

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A salivary gland biopsy on the lower lip may be considered a safe procedure for diagnosing Sjögren’s syndrome, with relatively few and mild complications, a study found.

According to its authors, proper management and follow-up may reduce the risk of complications from the biopsy and help in the recovery process.

The study, “Adverse post-operative events of salivary gland biopsies: a systematic review and metanalysis,” was published in the Journal of Oral Pathology & Medicine.

Sjögren’s syndrome is an autoimmune disorder characterized by inflammation of the glands producing saliva and tears. Its diagnosis may involve a biopsy — a procedure in which a small piece of tissue is taken from the salivary or tear glands — to look for signs of inflammation.

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The minor salivary glands located in the lower lip are the easiest to get to, and although the procedure is safe and simple, there may be some complications, such as a tingling of the lip, pain, bleeding, local discomfort, swelling, and bruising.

To determine how common these postoperative complications are, researchers in Brazil reviewed data from 27 international studies reporting on a total of 3,208 patients (ages ranging from 20 to 78 years).

The studies reported a total of 374 complications associated with lower lip salivary gland biopsy. The most common were neurological problems, followed by pain, swelling, and hematoma.

The team then investigated if the biopsy technique might influence the rate of complications. Three of the initial 27 studies were left out of the analysis due to missing data. Of the remaining 24, eight used a minimally invasive technique in which an incision smaller than 5 millimeters is made on the inner lip. The other 16 used a conventional technique in which the incision was 5 mm or larger.

Overall, the proportion of complications reported in patients who had a biopsy of the minor salivary glands was 11%.

When the researchers compared the two techniques, however, they found that the proportion of complications after a minimally invasive biopsy was almost triple that of complications arising after a conventional biopsy (16% vs. 6%). However, data were highly diverse across studies, and the team considered that the surgical technique did not influence the proportion of complications.

Similarly, there was no difference in the proportion of neurological complications between the two techniques (3% vs. 2%), and no permanent neurological complications were reported.

“Postoperative complications are more common than previously reported, but permanent complaints are uncommon,” the researchers wrote.

The findings suggest that “labial minor salivary glands biopsy should be considered safe procedure in establishing the diagnosis of Sjögren’s syndrome and other systemic diseases,” with a relatively low risk of complications, the researchers concluded.

“Adequate clinical control, appropriate follow-up care can help reduce your risk of complications after surgery and support your recovery process. Patients should always be adequately informed on the frequency and intensity of postoperative complications,” the team added.