Parotid Cancer


Learn about how Dr. Tjoa can help provide a treatment plan for parotid cancer.

A sore or growth in the mouth that doesn’t go away is the most common early sign of mouth cancer. Also referred to as oral cancer, mouth cancer can affect tissues in the lips, tongue, parts of the nasal cavity and the sinuses, inner linings of cheeks, the roof and floor of the mouth, the hard and soft palate, and parts of the throat.

  • If detected early, most forms of mouth cancer are treatable.
  • Because treatment approaches are similar, mouth cancer is often categorized with head and neck cancers.

Signs of Parotid Cancer

The parotid glands are responsible for producing the saliva that’s needed to properly chew and digest food. If a tumor grows within these tissues, it may cause problems with saliva production that could result in difficulty chewing food. Patients sometimes have trouble opening their jaw, or pain may be triggered when chewing. A parotid tumor that’s malignant (cancerous) may affect facial nerves and produce additional symptoms that include:

  • Numbness
  • Muscle weakness on one side of the face
  • Burning or prickling sensations
  • Loss of movement in parts of the face

Making a Diagnosis

Diagnosis of parotid cancer starts with a physical examination that includes a patient’s medical history. Involving the use of a flexible tube with a light and camera attached, an endoscopy may be done to evaluate parotid glands and nearby salivary glands. A newer procedure called a sialendoscopy uses a smaller endoscope to view the salivary glands. Whether or not a tumor in a parotid gland is cancerous will be determined with a tissue sample (biopsy) that’s examined in a lab. If cancer is detected, image tests are usually done to identify the size and location of the tumor and evaluate nearby tissues and glands.

Treating Parotid Cancer

With a parotid gland that’s malignant, surgery is usually the recommended treatment option. The most common procedure involves full or partial removal of the affected parotid gland (parotidectomy). During the operation, special care is taken to avoid unintentionally damaging facial nerves that pass through the parotid gland. These nerves play a role in controlling facial movements and expressions. Even if a parotid tumor turns out to be non-cancerous, it may still require surgical removal if it’s affecting facial nerves.

Chemotherapy and Radiation Therapy

Treatment for malignant parotid tumors may include chemotherapy and radiation therapy. which are often complementary treatments used together. Chemotherapy involves the use of drugs that affect the molecular structure of cancer cells. The purpose of radiation therapy is to use high-energy radiation to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors that cannot be safely removed with surgery.

The majority of cancers that may affect parotid glands are squamous cell carcinomas. When caught early, cancer of this nature can often be effectively treated with surgery. A benign (non-cancerous) growth in or around a parotid gland sometimes becomes a malignant tumor if the initial abnormality goes untreated for a long period of time. This is why anything out of the ordinary in the head or face should be reason enough to see an ear, nose, and throat doctor specializing in head and neck cancer.