Salivary gland tumours are a relatively rare and morphologically diverse group of lesions. Although most clinicians and pathologists will have encountered the more common benign neoplasms, few have experience of the full range of salivary cancers, which are best managed in specialist centres. This review considers some current areas of difficulty and controversy in the diagnosis and management of these neoplasms. The classification of these lesions is complex, encompassing nearly 40 different entities, but precise classification and terminology is essential for an accurate diagnosis and for the allocation of tumours to prognostic groups. For many salivary tumours diagnosis is straightforward but the wide range of morphological diversity between and within tumour types means that a diagnosis may not be possible on small incisional biopsies and careful consideration of the clinical and pathological features together is essential. Although tumour grading is important and helpful, it is not an independent prognostic indicator and must be considered in the context of stage. Large malignancies tend to have a poor prognosis regardless of grade and even high-grade neoplasms may do well when they are small. A helpful guide to management of salivary cancers is the '4 cm rule'.