A New Head & Neck Organ? Mowery Weighs In

Yvonne Mowery
Yvonne Mowery, MD, PhD
Yvonne Mowery, MD, PhD

On Oct. 19, The New York Times reported on an academic paper out of the Netherlands announcing the discovery of what may be a set of previously unidentified organs: a pair of salivary glands where the throat and the nasal cavity meet. The study was published last month in the journal Radiotherapy and Oncology.

consulted with Duke medical physicist and assistant professor Anna Rodrigues, PhD, to get her assessment of the paper, and was then referred to Butler Harris Assistant Professor in Radiation Oncology and Duke Cancer Institute member Yvonne Mowery, MD, PhD. Mowery's research focuses on head and neck cancer.

Mowery told Wu that she “was quite shocked that we are in 2020 and have a new structure identified in the human body.”

The significance and impact of the "discovery" is still unclear.

In a follow-up interview by Department of Radiation Oncology communications strategist Sarah Brady, Mowery said, "Histologic evaluation of this region on two cadavers clearly demonstrated salivary gland tissue, but I think that it is a matter of semantics regarding whether these truly represent a 'new organ' versus minor salivary glands, hundreds of which have long been known to be distributed throughout the aero-digestive tract."

Mowery continued, "I was impressed by the association of radiation dose to these structures with xerostomia and dysphagia, even after adjusting for dose to parotid/submandibular glands and pharyngeal constrictor muscles. However, I do not anticipate these structures being incorporated into head and neck normal tissue atlases as organs at risk for head and neck IMRT planning, and I am not ready to change my practice based on this single study."