Treatments and drugsBy Mayo Clinic staff
Treatment for salivary gland cancer depends on the type, size and stage of salivary gland cancer you have, as well as your overall health and your preferences. Salivary gland cancer treatment usually involves surgery, with or without radiation therapy.
Surgery for salivary gland cancer may include:
- Removing a portion of the affected salivary gland. If your cancer is small and located in an easy-to-access spot, your surgeon may remove the tumor and a small portion of healthy tissue that surrounds it.
- Removing the entire salivary gland. If you have a larger tumor, your doctor may recommend removing the entire salivary gland. If your cancer extends into nearby structures — such as the facial nerves, the ducts that connect your salivary glands, facial bones and skin — these also may be removed.
- Removing lymph nodes in your neck. If there's evidence that cancer has spread to the lymph nodes in your neck, your surgeon may remove most of the lymph nodes in your neck (neck dissection). Neck dissection may involve removal of other muscles and nerves in your neck, as well.
- Reconstructive surgery. If bone, skin or nerves are removed during your surgery, these may need to be repaired or replaced with reconstructive surgery. During reconstructive surgery, a plastic surgeon works to make repairs that improve your ability to chew, swallow, speak or breathe after surgery. You may need grafts of skin, tissue or nerves from other parts of your body to rebuild areas in your mouth, throat or jaw.
Salivary gland surgery can be difficult because several important nerves are located in and around the glands. For example, a nerve in the face that controls facial movement runs through the parotid gland. Removing tumors that involve important nerves may require damaging the nerves, causing partial paralysis of your face. Surgeons take care to preserve these nerves whenever possible. In some cases, severed nerves can be repaired with nerves taken from other areas of your body.
Radiation therapy uses high-powered energy beams, such as X-rays, to kill cancer cells. During radiation therapy, you lie on a table while a machine moves around you, directing high-powered beams at specific points on your body. A newer type of radiation therapy that uses particles called neutrons may be more effective in treating certain salivary gland cancers. However, neutron radiation therapy isn't widely available in the United States.
Radiation therapy can be used after surgery to kill any cancer cells that might remain. If surgery isn't possible because a tumor is very large or is located in a place that makes removal too risky, radiation alone may be used to treat salivary gland cancer.
Chemotherapy is a drug treatment that uses chemicals to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy may be an option for people with advanced salivary gland cancer that has spread to distant areas of their bodies. Chemotherapy isn't currently used as a standard treatment for salivary gland cancer, but researchers are studying its use.
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