Surgery for salivary gland cancer
Most salivary gland tumours affect one of the parotid glands, which sit in front of the ears. Surgery to remove part or all of a parotid gland is called a parotidectomy.
The facial nerve runs through the parotid gland. This nerve controls facial expressions and movement of the eyelid and lip. If it is damaged during surgery, you may be unable to smile, frown or close your eyes. This is known as facial palsy, and it will usually improve over several months. In some cases, the facial nerve needs to be cut so the cancer can be removed. This will affect how your face looks and moves. There are various procedures that can help improve this, such as using a nerve from another part of the body (nerve graft).
If the cancer affects a gland under the lower jaw (submandibular gland) or under the tongue (sublingual gland), the gland will be removed, along with some surrounding tissue. Nerves controlling the tongue and lower part of the face may be damaged, causing some loss of function.
Podcast: Making Treatment Decisions
A/Prof Richard Gallagher, Head and Neck Surgeon, Director of Cancer Services and Head and Neck Cancer Services, St Vincent’s Health Network, NSW; Dr Sophie Beaumont, Head of Dental Oncology, Dental Practitioner, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Dr Bena Brown, Speech Pathologist, Princess Alexandra Hospital, and Senior Research Fellow, Menzies School of Health Research, QLD; Dr Teresa Brown, Assistant Director, Nutrition and Dietetics, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, QLD; Lisa Castle-Burns, Head and Neck Cancer Specialist Nurse, Canberra Region Cancer Centre, The Canberra Hospital, ACT; A/Prof Ben Chua, Radiation Oncologist, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, GenesisCare Rockhampton and Brisbane, QLD; Elaine Cook, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Victoria; Dr Andrew Foreman, Specialist Ear, Nose and Throat Surgeon, Royal Adelaide Hospital, SA; Tony Houey, Consumer; Dr Annette Lim, Medical Oncologist and Clinician Researcher – Head and Neck and Non-melanoma Skin Cancer, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and The University of Melbourne, VIC; Paula Macleod, Head, Neck and Thyroid Cancer Nurse Coordinator, Northern Sydney Cancer Centre, Royal North Shore Hospital, NSW; Dr Aoife McGarvey, Physiotherapist and Accredited Lymphoedema Practitioner, Physio Living, Newcastle, NSW; Rick Pointon, Consumer; Teresa Simpson Senior Clinician, Psycho-Oncology Social Work Service, Cancer Therapy Centre, Liverpool Hospital, NSW.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.