Scientists in the Netherlands have discovered a potential new organ in the human throat while carrying out research on prostate cancer.
They said they have discovered a pair of previously overlooked glands that are hidden away in our skulls where the nasal cavity and the throat meet, reported IndiaTimes on Thursday.
According to a study published in the journal Radiotherapy and Oncology, the researchers confirmed the presence of the glands known as "tubarial salivary glands" after examining at least 100 patients.
The newly discovered glands are about 1.5 inches (3.9 centimeters) in length on average and are located over a piece of cartilage called the torus tubarius,
According to the researchers, the glands probably lubricate and moisten the upper throat behind the nose and mouth.
So far, this nasopharynx region situated behind the nose was not thought to host anything but microscopic, diffuse, salivary glands.
Before this study there were only three known large salivary glands in humans: one under the tongue, one under the jaw and one at the back of the jaw.
The discovery was "thrilling" but the authors were "a bit skeptical" at first, said the study's lead author Matthijs H. Valstar, a surgeon in the department of head and neck oncology and surgery at The Netherlands Cancer Institute.
The glands cannot be seen with conventional methods of medical imaging like ultrasound, Computerized Topography (CT) scans or Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), the study authors said.
Only when doctors were using an advanced and new type of scan called PSMA PET/CT that has been used to detect the spread of prostate cancer, they were able to detect this 'Unknown Entity'
PSMA PET is shorthand for prostate-specific membrane antigen imaging using positron emission tomography.
Salivary glands show up clearly on this highly sensitive kind of imaging
The study author Wouter Vogel, a radiation oncologist at The Netherlands Cancer Institute said, "Our next step is to find out how we can best spare these new glands and in which patients.
If we can do this, patients may experience fewer side effects which will benefit their overall quality of life after treatment."