How Is Salivary Gland Cancer Treated?

There are many different treatment options for salivary gland cancer, including surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy, which may be used alone or in combination with radiosensitizer treatment. Oncologists typically recommend specific treatments based on the type, stage and location of a patient’s tumor, as well as the patient’s age and overall health.

Surgery for salivary gland cancer

In many cases, surgeons recommend an operation to remove one or more of the glands that produce saliva and release it into the mouth. The most common procedures for treating salivary gland cancer include:

  • A total parotidectomy, in which the entire parotid gland is removed
  • A superficial parotidectomy, in which only the exterior portion of the parotid gland is removed
  • A sublingual gland surgery, in which the sublingual gland is removed
  • A submandibular gland surgery, in which the submandibular gland is removed
  • A minor salivary gland surgery, in which a small amount of cancerous soft tissue is removed from the lips, tongue, soft palate, throat, nose or sinuses

Because the salivary glands are located near a number of sensitive nerves, it’s important for a surgeon to operate with a high level of precision. Many patients choose to work with a specialized head and neck surgeon to achieve the best possible outcome.

Radiation therapy for salivary gland cancer

Radiation therapy can be used instead of surgery in certain situations, or after surgery to destroy any remaining cells. There are also a variety of methods that radiation therapists can use to adjust the radiation dose and avoid exposure to healthy tissues that surround the salivary glands. Potential options include accelerated hyperfractionated radiation therapy, three-dimension conformal radiation therapy and fast neutron beam radiation. In some cases, radiation oncologists will first prescribe radiosensitizing medications to make a tumor more receptive to radiation therapy.

Chemotherapy for salivary gland cancer

Chemotherapy isn’t always recommended for treating salivary gland cancer, although it may be used if surgery and radiation therapy aren’t appropriate or if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.

Where to go for treatment

Individuals who are seeking treatment for salivary gland cancer can access the newest and most effective therapies at Moffitt Cancer Center. We offer a comprehensive range of surgical treatments, radiation therapies and chemotherapy medications, as well as other novel therapies that are only available through our clinical trials.

No referral is required to request an appointment. If you’d like to consult with a member of our Head and Neck Cancer Program, call 1-888-663-3488 or submit a new patient registration form online.