Lacrimal Gland Tumor: Treatment Options

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 08/2015

ON THIS PAGE: You will learn about the different ways doctors use to treat people with this type of tumor. To see other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen.

This section outlines treatments that are the standard of care (the best known treatments available) for this specific type of tumor. When making treatment plan decisions, patients are also encouraged to consider clinical trials as an option.

A clinical trial is a research study to test a new approach to treatment to evaluate whether it is safe, effective, and possibly better than the standard treatment. Clinical trials may test such approaches as a new drug, a new combination of standard treatments, or new doses of current therapies. Your doctor can help you review all treatment options.

For more information, see the About Clinical Trials section and Latest Research sections.

Treatment overview

For this type of tumor, different types of doctors often work together to create a patient’s overall treatment plan that combines different types of treatments. This is called a multidisciplinary team. For example, patients who receive radiation therapy to the eye may need to also talk with an ophthalmologist or plastic surgeon to make sure the eye can still function after treatment. This team may also include a variety of other health care professionals, including physician assistants, oncology nurses, social workers, pharmacists, counselors, dietitians, and others.

Patients should have a sense that their doctors have a coordinated plan of care and are communicating effectively with one another. If patients do not feel that the team is communicating effectively with them or each other about the goals of treatment and the plan of care, patients should discuss this with their doctors or get additional opinions before treatment.

Descriptions of the most common treatment options for lacrimal gland tumor are listed below. Goals of treatment include complete removal of the tumor, as well as maintaining the health and vision of the patient’s eye(s).

Treatment options and recommendations depend on several factors, including:

  • The type and stage of tumor

  • Possible side effects

  • Whether one or both eyes are involved

  • Whether the tumor is cancerous

  • The patient’s preferences

  • The patient’s overall health

Your care plan may also include treatment for symptoms and side effects, an important part of your care. Take time to learn about all of your treatment options and be sure to ask questions about things that are unclear. Also, talk about the goals of each treatment with your doctor and what you can expect while receiving the treatment. Learn more about making treatment decisions.


Surgery is the removal of the tumor and some surrounding healthy tissue during an operation. Surgery to the eye is common in the treatment of a lacrimal gland tumor. During surgery, the ophthalmologist will remove parts of the affected eye. Or, if necessary, the entire eye (called enucleation; see below) will be removed, depending on the size and spread of the tumor.

Possible side effects of eye surgery are similar to that of any surgery. They include a risk of infection, problems with anesthesia (medication used during surgery to block awareness of pain), and pain.

Learn more about the basics of cancer surgery.

Having an eye removed

Sometimes it is medically necessary to remove the eye. Because of this visual loss, a person with one eye may have trouble with depth perception. Most people adjust to these differences, which support from the health care team.

Many people worry about what they will look like when they have an eye removed. The cosmetic surgery available today usually yields good cosmetic results. To fill the area left by the missing eye, the person is fitted for a prosthesis, which is an artificial eye. The prosthesis will look and behave almost the same as a natural eye. For example, the artificial eye will move along with the person’s remaining eye, just not as much as a natural eye moves. Family members may be able to tell that the eye is not real, but it is unlikely that strangers will know.

If enucleation is required, talk with your doctor about a prosthesis. It may take many weeks for you to receive one. Also, ask about support services that may be available to you to help adjust to the loss of an eye. Learn more about rehabilitation.

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy is the use of high-energy x-rays or other particles to destroy cancer cells. It is most often used for lacrimal gland lymphoma. A doctor who specializes in giving radiation therapy to treat cancer is called a radiation oncologist. A radiation therapy regimen (schedule) usually consists of a specific number of treatments given over a specific time.

There are different types of radiation therapy, including:

  • External-beam radiation therapy. The most common type of radiation, external-beam radiation therapy is given from a machine outside the body.

  • Proton therapy. Also called proton-beam therapy, this is a type of external-beam radiation therapy that uses protons rather than x-rays. At high energy, protons can destroy cancer cells.

  • Intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT). IMRT is another way to deliver external-beam radiation therapy. The intensity is varied to more precisely target the tumor. As a result, IMRT damages less surrounding healthy tissue than is possible with traditional radiation treatment. IMRT may also reduce the damage to nearby important organs.

The dosage of radiation used and the site and type of the tumor significantly affect the risks of side effects. Common side effect of radiation therapy to the eye area include:

  • Cataracts. A cataract is when the lens of the eye becomes cloudy. People with cataracts may have cloudy or foggy vision, have trouble seeing at night, and/or have problems with glare from the sun or bright lights. If the cataract is causing major problems with a person's eyesight, the cataract can be surgically removed.

  • Loss of eyelashes and/or a dry eye. These side effects can occur with external-beam radiation therapy and proton-beam radiation therapy.

The following side effects are less common and can cause a loss of vision:

  • Radiation retinopathy: The development of abnormal blood vessels in the retina

  • Radiation optic neuropathy: Optic nerve damage

  • Neovascular glaucoma: A painful condition where new blood vessels develop and block the outflow of fluid from the eye

If there is significant damage to the eye from radiation therapy, the eye may need to be removed (see above). Other side effects from radiation therapy may include fatigue, mild skin reactions, upset stomach, or loose bowel movements. Most of these side effects go away soon after treatment is finished. Talk with your doctor about the risks and benefits of the different types of radiation therapy. Learn more about the basics of radiation therapy.


Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to destroy tumor cells, usually by stopping the cancer cells’ ability to grow and divide. Chemotherapy is given by a medical oncologist, a doctor who specializes in treating a tumor with medication.

Systemic chemotherapy gets into the bloodstream to reach tumor cells throughout the body. Common ways to give chemotherapy include an intravenous (IV) tube placed into a vein using a needle or in a pill or capsule that is swallowed. For a lacrimal gland tumor, chemotherapy may also be delivered through the blood vessel (intra-arterial) feeding the eye and the tumor by inserting a catheter in the groin area. The doctor guides the catheter into position with the help of imaging technology to reach the blood vessel in the head.

A chemotherapy regimen (schedule) usually consists of a specific number of cycles given over a set period of time. A patient may receive one drug at a time or combinations of different drugs at the same time.

The side effects of chemotherapy depend on the individual and the dose used, but they can include fatigue, risk of infection, nausea and vomiting, hair loss, loss of appetite, or diarrhea. These side effects usually go away once treatment is finished.

Learn more about the basics of chemotherapy and preparing for treatment. The medications used to treat cancer are continually being evaluated. Talking with your doctor is often the best way to learn about the medications prescribed for you, their purpose, and their potential side effects or interactions with other medications. Learn more about your prescriptions by using searchable drug databases.


Immunotherapy, also called biologic therapy, is designed to boost the body's natural defenses to fight the tumor. It uses materials made either by the body or in a laboratory to improve, target, or restore immune system function.

Rituximab (Rituxan) is the most common immunotherapy used in the treatment of a lacrimal gland tumor. It is also used for the treatment of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Learn more about the basics of immunotherapy.

Treatment by type of lacrimal gland tumor

Below is an outline of the common treatments used depending on the type and stage of the lacrimal gland tumor. In addition to standard treatments, patients are encouraged to talk with their doctors about clinical trials that are open to them, no matter the type or stage of the tumor.

  • Benign mixed epithelial tumor. The most common type of treatment for a benign mixed epithelial tumor is an excisional biopsy, where the tumor is removed surgically (see Diagnosis). The prognosis is more favorable if the tumor is completely removed.

  • Malignant mixed epithelial tumor. The most common treatment for a malignant mixed epithelial lacrimal gland tumor is the complete surgical removal of the tumor.

  • Lymphoma. Lymphoma may be treated with external-beam radiation therapy, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, or a combination of these treatments. The chance of recovering from a lymphoma of the lacrimal gland is higher if only one eye is affected. The specific treatment for ocular lymphoma depends on whether other parts of the body are affected, so it is important to know the stage of the lymphoma.

  • AdCC of the lacrimal gland. AdCC is an aggressive form of cancer, and the most common type of treatment for AdCC is a procedure called exenteration. In this procedure, the surgeon removes the lacrimal gland, eyeball, muscles, and all orbital contents and adjacent bone. A combination of chemotherapy and radiation therapy may also be used as part of the treatment plan. Treatment is most successful when the cancer has not spread. More details about AdCC treatment options can be found here.

Getting care for symptoms and side effects

A tumor and its treatment often cause side effects. In addition to treatment to slow, stop, or eliminate the tumor, an important part of care is relieving a person’s symptoms and side effects. This approach is called palliative or supportive care, and it includes supporting the patient with his or her physical, emotional, and social needs.

Palliative care is any treatment that focuses on reducing symptoms, improving quality of life, and supporting patients and their families. Any person, regardless of age or type and stage of tumor, may receive palliative care. It works best when palliative care is started as early as needed in the cancer treatment process.

People often receive treatment for the tumor and treatment to ease side effects at the same time. In fact, patients who receive both often have less severe symptoms, better quality of life, and report they are more satisfied with treatment. Palliative care can also help if treatment involves changes to your face to help you find emotional support to cope with such changes to your appearance.

Palliative treatments vary widely and often include medication, nutritional changes, relaxation techniques, emotional support, and other therapies. You may also receive palliative treatments similar to those meant to eliminate the cancer, such as chemotherapy, surgery, or radiation therapy. Talk with your doctor about the goals of each treatment in the treatment plan.

Before treatment begins, talk with your health care team about the possible side effects of your specific treatment plan and palliative care options. And during and after treatment, be sure to tell your doctor or another health care team member if you are experiencing a problem so it can be addressed as quickly as possible.

Learn more about palliative care

Metastatic lacrimal gland tumor

If a tumor has spread to another location in the body, it is called metastatic lacrimal gland cancer. Patients with this diagnosis are encouraged to talk with doctors who are experienced in treating this stage of cancer, because there can be different opinions about the best treatment plan. Learn more about getting a second opinion before starting treatment, so you are comfortable with the treatment plan chosen. This discussion may include clinical trials.

Your health care team may recommend a treatment plan that includes a combination of surgery, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, and chemotherapy. Palliative care will also be important to help relieve symptoms and side effects.

For most patients, a diagnosis of metastatic cancer is very stressful and, at times, difficult to bear. Patients and their families are encouraged to talk about the way they are feeling with doctors, nurses, social workers, or other members of the health care team. It may also be helpful to talk with other patients, including through a support group.

Remission and the chance of recurrence

A remission is when a tumor cannot be detected in the body and there are no symptoms. This may also be called having “no evidence of disease” or NED.

A remission may be temporary or permanent. This uncertainty causes many people to worry that the tumor will come back. While many remissions are permanent, it’s important to talk with your doctor about the possibility of the tumor returning. Understanding your risk of recurrence and the treatment options may help you feel more prepared if the tumor does return. Learn more about about coping with the fear of recurrence.

If the tumor does return after the original treatment, it is called a recurrent lacrimal gland tumor. It may come back in the same place (called a local recurrence), nearby (regional recurrence), or in another place (distant recurrence).

When this occurs, a cycle of testing will begin again to learn as much as possible about the recurrence. After testing is done, you and your doctor will talk about your treatment options. Often the treatment plan will include the treatments described above such as surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. However, they may be used in a different combination or given at a different pace. Usually, surgery is the first option for treating a recurrence if it hasn’t been done already.

If there is no standard drug available, your doctor may suggest participation in a clinical trial, including a phase I clinical trial . This phase is where new drugs are tested to find out the safety and effective dose of the drug, although not necessarily whether the drug is effective for treating this type of tumor. Learn more about the phases of clinical trials.

Whichever treatment plan you choose, palliative care will be important for relieving symptoms and side effects.

People with a recurrent tumor often experience emotions such as disbelief or fear. Patients are encouraged to talk with their health care team about these feelings and ask about support services to help them cope. Learn more about dealing with recurrence.

If treatment fails

Recovery from a lacrimal gland tumor is not always possible. If the tumor cannot be cured or controlled, the disease may be called advanced or terminal.

This diagnosis is stressful, and it is difficult to discuss for many people. However, it is important to have open and honest conversations with your doctor and health care team to express your feelings, preferences, and concerns. The health care team is there to help, and many team members have special skills, experience, and knowledge to support patients and their families. Making sure a person is physically comfortable and free from pain is extremely important.

Patients who have an advanced tumor and who are expected to live less than six months may want to consider a type of palliative care called hospice care. Hospice care is designed to provide the best possible quality of life for people who are near the end of life. 

You and your family are encouraged to think about where you would be most comfortable: at home, in the hospital, or in a hospice environment. Nursing care and special equipment can make staying at home a workable alternative for many families. Learn more about advanced cancer care planning.

After the death of a loved one, many people need support to help them cope with the loss. Learn more about grief and loss.

The next section in this guide is About Clinical Trials and it offers more information about research studies that are focused on finding better ways to care for people with a tumor. Or, use the menu on the side of your screen to choose another section to continue reading this guide.