Salivary gland carcinomas demonstrate a wide diversity of histopathological types and biological behavior. The aim of this study was to analyze relative survival of patients with major salivary gland carcinomas with special reference to histopathology, gender and age. All new carcinomas of the major salivary glands reported to the National Swedish Cancer Registry 1960-1995 were searched for and the vital status of the cases was updated by record linkage to the Swedish Population Registry through December 31 1996. The study comprised 2465 patients with carcinoma of the parotid or submandibular glands. Relative survival differed markedly according to histopathological typing (P<0.001). For parotid tumors, acinic cell carcinomas had the best prognosis with a 10-year relative survival of 88%. The corresponding figures for mucoepidermoid carcinomas, adenoidcystic carcinomas and carcinoma ex pleomorphic adenoma were 80, 74 and 73%. Adenocarcinoma NOS and undifferentiated carcinoma had worse prognosis, with 10-year relative survival of 55 and 44%. Patients with submandibular gland cancer had similar relative survival to those with parotid cancers, besides those with mucoepidermoid cancer and adenocarcinoma NOS, who carried worse prognosis. Age and gender had an impact on relative survival for patients with mucoepidermoid carcinoma, adenocarcinoma and undifferentiated cancer of the parotid.