Epidemiology of Warthin's tumour of the parotid gland in an Asian population

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Recent studies have documented a number of changing demographic features in the occurrence of Warthin's tumour (adenolymphoma) of the parotid gland. In order to analyse its epidemiology in an Asian population, a retrospective study was performed on all parotid neoplasms (n = 289) operated on between 1988 and 1998.

Patients and methods

A total of 209 consecutive patients were selected for study, 136 with pleomorphic adenomas (one bilateral) and 73 with Warthin's tumours (seven bilateral). Patients were analysed with regard to tumour incidence, age, sex and race. Smoking as an aetiological factor in the development of Warthin's tumour was also studied.


Warthin's tumour formed 25 per cent of parotid tumours and its ratio to pleomorphic adenomas was 1: 1.9. Multicentricity was found in 14 patients (19 per cent). The male: female ratio for Warthin's tumours was 4.6: 1. The proportion of Warthin's tumours did not show any increasing trend relative to pleomorphic adenomas. The racial distribution of Warthin's tumours showed an increased incidence among Chinese and a reduced incidence among Malays and Indians. The adjusted odds ratio for sex and age favouring an association between smoking and Warthin's tumour was 39.5 (95 per cent confidence interval 10.5-149.0; P < 0.0001).


The incidence of Warthin's tumour is considerable among Asians although there is still male predominance. There is no rising incidence of Warthin's tumour; the trend parallels the declining smoking rate in the population. The lower incidence among ethnic groups with dark skin seems to suggest concomitant genetic factors other than environmental factors alone in histogenesis. Smokers have a 40-fold greater risk than non-smokers of developing a Warthin's tumour.

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