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Salivary Gland Cancer - Overview

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 08/2015

ON THIS PAGE: You will find some basic information about this disease and the parts of the body it may affect. This is the first page of Cancer.Net’s Guide to Salivary Gland Cancer. To see other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen. Think of that menu as a roadmap to this full guide.  

About the salivary glands

The salivary glands contain tissues that produce saliva. Saliva is important to the body because it:

  • Helps keep the mouth moist

  • Contains enzymes that begin breaking down food

  • Helps prevent infections of the mouth and throat

There are clusters of salivary glands in several places in the head and neck. Doctors often refer to three pairs of salivary glands as the major salivary glands.

  • Parotid glands. These are the largest salivary glands. They are located on either side of the face in front of the ears.

  • Submandibular glands. These are found under the jawbone.

  • Sublingual glands. These are found in the bottom of the mouth under the tongue.

There are also smaller clusters of salivary glands, called minor salivary glands. These include salivary glands in:

  • The area of the upper jaw along the inside of the teeth and the soft palate

  • Parts of the tissue that lines the upper digestive tract, known as the mucosa

  • The windpipe

About salivary gland cancer

Salivary gland cancer is one of the five main types of cancer in the head and neck region, a grouping called head and neck cancer. Cancer begins when healthy cells change and grow uncontrollably, forming a mass of tissue called a tumor. A tumor can be cancerous or benign. A cancerous tumor is malignant, meaning it can grow and spread to other parts of the body. A benign tumor means the tumor can grow but will not spread.

Both benign and cancerous tumors can begin in any of the major or minor salivary glands. Most of the tumors (80%) that develop in the parotid gland, and about half of the tumors in the submandibular gland, are benign. Sublingual gland tumors are almost always cancerous. Most cancerous tumors of this type begin in the parotid gland or in the submandibular glands.

There are many subtypes of salivary gland tumors, depending on the type of cell where it started and an evaluation of tumor cells under a microscope. This is explained in more detail in the Subtypes section.

This section covers primary salivary gland cancer, which is cancer that begins in the salivary glands. Sometimes another type of cancer, most commonly melanoma or another type of skin cancer, can spread to the salivary glands or to the nearby lymph nodes located inside and surrounding the parotid gland and next to the submandibular gland. Lymph nodes are tiny, bean-shaped organs that fight infection. For more information about cancer that started in another part of the body and then spread to the salivary glands, please see Cancer.Net’s guide for that type of cancer.

The next section in this guide is Statistics, and it helps explain how many people are diagnosed with this disease and general survival rates. Or, use the menu on the side of your screen to choose another section to continue reading this guide.

Salivary Gland Cancer - Statistics

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 08/2015

ON THIS PAGE: You will find information about how many people are diagnosed with this type of cancer each year. You will also learn some general information on surviving the disease. Remember, survival rates depend on several factors. To see other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen.

Salivary gland cancer is uncommon in the United States. An estimated 1 adult out of 100,000 will be diagnosed with salivary gland cancer this year. This type of cancer makes up less than 1% of all cancers diagnosed in the United States.

The 5-year survival rate tells you what percent of people live at least 5 years after the cancer is found. Percent means how many out of 100. Survival rates for people with this type of tumor vary depending on the type and the extent, or stage, of the cancer.

It is important to remember that statistics on how many people survive this type of cancer are an estimate. The estimate comes from data based on people with this cancer in the United States each year. So, your own risk may be different. Doctors cannot say for sure how long anyone will live with salivary gland cancer. Learn more about understanding statistics.

Statistics adapted from the American Cancer Society.

The next section in this guide is Medical Illustrations. It offers drawings of body parts often affected by this disease. Or, use the menu on the left side of your screen to choose another section to continue reading this guide.

Salivary Gland Cancer - Medical Illustrations

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 08/2015

ON THIS PAGE: You will find a basic drawing illustrating the location of the major salivary glands. To see other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen.

For medical illustrations showing the different stages of salivary gland cancer, please visit the Stages and Grades section.

The next section in this guide is Risk Factors, and it explains what factors may increase the chance of developing this type of cancer. Or, use the menu on the side of your screen to choose another section to continue reading this guide.

Salivary Gland Cancer - Risk Factors

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 08/2015

ON THIS PAGE: You will find out more about the factors that increase the chance of developing this type of cancer. To see other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen.

A risk factor is anything that increases a person’s chance of developing cancer. Although risk factors often influence the development of cancer, most do not directly cause cancer. Some people with several risk factors never develop cancer, while others with no known risk factors do. However, knowing your risk factors and talking about them with your doctor may help you make more informed lifestyle and health care choices.

The cause(s) of most salivary gland cancers are unknown, but the following factors may raise a person’s risk of developing salivary gland cancer:

  • Age. Two out of every three salivary gland cancers are found in people 55 and older, with an average age of 64.

  • Radiation exposure. Radiation therapy to the head or neck for another medical reason may increase the risk of developing salivary gland cancer.

  • Radioactive substance exposure. In some reports, exposure to certain radioactive substances has been linked to an increased risk of salivary gland cancer. In other reports, there has not been enough evidence to support this. Talk with your doctor for more information.

  • Environmental/occupational exposure. Exposure to sawdust and chemicals used in the leather industry, pesticides, and some industrial solvents may increase the risk of a type of salivary gland cancer that occurs in the nose and sinuses.

Researchers continue to look into what factors cause this type of cancer. Other possible risk factors that doctors are investigating, but have not proven, include exposure to certain metals (nickel alloy dust) or minerals (silica dust), a diet low in vegetables and high in animal fats, and exposure to hair dye or hairspray. Talk with your doctor for more information about your personal risk of cancer and how you may be able to lower your risk.

The next section in this guide is Screening, and it explains how tests may find cancer before signs or symptoms appear. Or, use the menu on the side of your screen to choose another section to continue reading this guide.   

Salivary Gland Cancer - Screening

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 08/2015

ON THIS PAGE: You will find out more about how people may be screened for head and neck cancer, including risks and benefits of screening. To see other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen.

Scientists have developed, and continue to develop, tests that can be used to screen a person for specific types of cancer before signs or symptoms appear. The overall goals of cancer screening are to:

  • Lower the number of people who die from the disease, or eliminate deaths from cancer altogether

  • Lower the number of people who develop the disease

Learn more about the basics of cancer screening.

Screening information for salivary gland cancer

It is important to receive regular health and dental screenings to check for head and neck cancers, including salivary gland cancer. This is a simple, quick procedure in which the doctor looks in the nose, mouth, and throat for abnormalities and feels for lumps in the neck. If anything unusual is found, the doctor will recommend a more extensive examination using one or more of the diagnostic procedures mentioned under the Diagnosis section.

The next section in this guide is Symptoms and Signs, and it explains what body changes or medical problems this disease can cause. Or, use the menu on the side of your screen to choose another section to continue reading this guide.

Salivary Gland Cancer - Symptoms and Signs

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 08/2015

ON THIS PAGE: You will find out more about body changes and other things that can signal a problem that may need medical care. To see other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen.

People with salivary gland cancer may experience the following symptoms or signs. Sometimes, people with salivary gland cancer do not show any of these symptoms. Or, these symptoms may be caused by a medical condition that is not cancer.

  • A lump on the face, neck, or mouth that is usually painless

  • Numbness in the face

  • Inability to move some facial muscles, especially if the muscle on one side of the face stops moving and the area affected slowly expands. This is known as progressive facial muscle paralysis.

  • Pain or swelling in the face, chin, jawbone area, or neck

  • A difference between the size and/or shape of the left and right sides of the face or neck

If you are concerned about one or more of the symptoms or signs on this list, talk with a doctor and/or dentist right away, especially if they don’t go away or get worse. Your doctor will ask how long and how often you’ve been experiencing the symptom(s), in addition to other questions. This is to help find out the cause of the problem, called a diagnosis. When detected early, head and neck cancers have a much better chance of cure.

If cancer is diagnosed, relieving symptoms remains an important part of cancer care and treatment. This may also be called symptom management, palliative care, or supportive care. Be sure to talk with your health care team about symptoms you experience, including any new symptoms or a change in symptoms.

The next section in this guide is Diagnosis, and it explains what tests may be needed to learn more about the cause of the symptoms. Or, use the menu on the side of your screen to choose another section to continue reading this guide.  

Salivary Gland Cancer - Diagnosis

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 08/2015

ON THIS PAGE: You will find a list of the common tests, procedures, and scans that doctors can use to find out what’s wrong and identify the cause of the problem. To see other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen.

Doctors use many tests to diagnose cancer and find out if it has spread to another part of the body, called metastasis. Some tests may also determine which treatments may be the most effective. For most types of cancer, a biopsy is the only way to make a definitive diagnosis of cancer. If a biopsy is not possible, the doctor may suggest other tests that will help make a diagnosis.

For a salivary gland tumor, a needle biopsy (see below) is the preferred test for making a diagnosis. A surgical (incisional) biopsy should be avoided in almost every case with rare exceptions. Imaging tests may be used to find out whether the cancer has spread.

This list describes options for diagnosing this type of cancer, and not all tests listed will be used for every person. Your doctor may consider these factors when choosing a diagnostic test:

  • Age and medical condition

  • Type of cancer suspected

  • Signs and symptoms

  • Results of previous tests

Tests and Procedures

To diagnose salivary gland cancer, the doctor will ask about your medical history and potential risk factors. Then he or she will do a careful physical examination. A thorough examination of the skin is particularly important if the patient has ever had a skin tumor. If there is facial nerve paralysis, specific tests will be necessary, and an examination of the oral cavity (mouth), hypopharynx (lower throat), and larynx (voice box) will also be done.

There are no specific blood or urine tests that can detect a salivary gland tumor because there are no known tumor markers for salivary gland cancer at this time. Tumor markers are substances found in higher than normal amounts in the blood, urine, or body tissues of people with certain kinds of cancer.

In addition to a physical examination, the following tests may be used to diagnose salivary gland cancer:

  • Biopsy. A biopsy is the removal of a small amount of tissue for examination under a microscope. Other tests can suggest that cancer is present, but only a biopsy can make a definite diagnosis. A pathologist then analyzes the sample(s). A pathologist is a doctor who specializes in interpreting laboratory tests and evaluating cells, tissues, and organs to diagnose disease.

  • Ultrasound-guided needle biopsy.  During this type of biopsy, the doctor uses the images produced by an ultrasound to guide a needle into the tumor. An ultrasound uses sound waves to create a picture of the internal organs. A pathologist then analyzes the sample(s).

  • Endoscopy. This test allows the doctor to see inside the body with a thin, lighted, flexible tube called an endoscope. The person may be sedated while the tube is inserted through the mouth, down the esophagus, and into the stomach and small bowel. The examination has different names depending on the area of the body that is examined, such as laryngoscopy (larynx), pharyngoscopy (pharynx), or a nasopharyngoscopy (nasopharynx). Sedation is giving medication to become more relaxed, calm, or sleepy.

  • Computed tomography (CT or CAT) scan. A CT scan creates a three-dimensional picture of the inside of the body with an x-ray machine. A computer then combines these images into a detailed, cross-sectional view that shows any abnormalities or tumors. A CT scan can also be used to measure the tumor’s size. Sometimes, a special dye called a contrast medium is given before the scan to provide better detail on the image. This dye can be injected into a patient’s vein or given as a liquid to swallow.

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). An MRI uses magnetic fields, not x-rays, to produce detailed images of the body, especially images of soft tissue, such as the tonsils and base of the tongue. MRI can also be used to measure the tumor’s size. A special dye called a contrast medium is given before the scan to create a clearer picture. This dye can be injected into a patient’s vein or given as a liquid to swallow.

  • Positron emission tomography (PET) scan. A PET scan is a way to create pictures of organs and tissues inside the body. A small amount of a radioactive sugar substance is injected into the patient’s body. This sugar substance is taken up by cells that use the most energy. Because cancer tends to use energy actively, it absorbs more of the radioactive substance. A scanner then detects this substance to produce images of the inside of the body.

  • Panorex. This is a rotating, or panoramic, x-ray of the upper and lower jawbones to detect cancer or evaluate teeth before cancer treatment.

After diagnostic tests are done, your doctor will review all of the results with you. If the diagnosis is cancer, these results also help the doctor figure out the tumor’s subtype.

The next section in this guide is Subtypes, and it lists the types of salivary gland tumors that may be diagnosed. Or, use the menu on the side of your screen to choose another section to continue reading this guide.

Salivary Gland Cancer - Subtypes

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 08/2015

ON THIS PAGE: You will find a list of the most common subtypes of salivary gland tumors. To see other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen.

There are many types of salivary gland tumors. Doctors classify the subtype of salivary gland tumor by looking at tumor cells under a microscope, called a histologic evaluation. Your doctor can provide more information regarding your specific diagnosis.

Benign tumor subtypes

  • Pleomorphic adenoma (benign mixed tumor)

  • Papillary cystadenoma-lymphomatosum (Warthin’s tumor)

  • Oncocytoma

  • Monomorphic adenoma, including basal cell adenoma, glycogen-rich adenoma, and clear cell adenoma, among others

  • Sebaceous adenoma

  • Sebaceous lymphadenoma

  • Papillary ductal adenoma

  • Benign lymphoepithelial lesion

Cancerous tumor subtypes

  • Carcinoma ex-pleomorphic adenoma

  • Mucoepidermoid carcinoma

  • Hybrid basal cell carcinoma-adenoid cystic carcinoma

  • Adenoid cystic carcinoma

  • Acinic cell carcinoma

  • Adenocarcinoma

  • Polymorphous low-grade adenocarcinoma

  • Oncocytic carcinoma (malignant oncocytoma)

  • Clear cell carcinoma

  • Epithelial-myoepithelial carcinoma of intercalated ducts

  • Squamous cell carcinoma

  • Undifferentiated carcinoma

  • Metastatic carcinoma

Source: Tumors of the Head and Neck, Clinical and Pathological Considerations 2nd Edition, John G. Batsakis, MD, Copyright 1979, published by The Williams & Wilkins Company.

The next section in this guide is Stages and Grades. It explains the system doctors use to describe the extent of the disease and how the cancer cells look under a microscope. Or, use the menu on the side of your screen to choose another section to continue reading this guide.

Salivary Gland Cancer - Stages and Grades

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 08/2015

ON THIS PAGE: You will learn about how doctors describe a cancer’s growth or spread, as well as what the cancer cells look like under a microscope. This is called the stage and grade. To see other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen.

Staging is a way of describing where the cancer is located, if or where it has spread, and whether it is affecting other parts of the body. Doctors use diagnostic tests to find out the cancer’s stage, so staging may not be complete until the doctor performs a biopsy. Knowing the stage helps the doctor to decide what kind of treatment is best and can help predict a patient’s prognosis, which is the chance of recovery. There are different stage descriptions for different types of cancer.

TNM staging system

One tool that doctors use to describe the stage is the TNM system. Doctors use the results from diagnostic tests and scans to answer these questions:

  • Tumor (T): How large is the primary tumor? Where is it located?

  • Node (N): Has the tumor spread to the lymph nodes? If so, where and how many?

  • Metastasis (M): Has the cancer metastasized to other parts of the body? If so, where and how much?

The results are combined to determine the stage of cancer for each person. There are five stages: stage 0 (zero) and stages I through IV (one through four). The stage provides a common way of describing the cancer, so doctors can work together to plan the best treatments.

Here are more details on each part of the TNM system for salivary gland cancer:

Tumor (T)

Using the TNM system, the "T" plus a letter or number (0 to 4) is used to describe the size and location of the tumor. Some stages are also divided into smaller groups that help describe the tumor in even more detail. Specific tumor stage information is listed below.

TX: Indicates the primary tumor cannot be evaluated.

T0: No evidence of a tumor was found.

T1: Describes a small, noninvasive (has not spread) tumor that is 2 centimeters (cm) at its greatest dimension.

T2: Describes a larger, noninvasive tumor between 2 cm to 4 cm.

T3: Describes a tumor that is larger than 4 cm, but not larger than 6 cm, that has spread beyond the salivary glands but does not affect the seventh nerve, the facial nerve that controls expression, such as smiles or frowns.

T4a: The tumor has invaded the skin, jawbone, ear canal, and/or facial nerve.

T4b: The tumor has invaded the skull base and/or the nearby bones and/or encases the arteries.

Node (N)

The “N” in the TNM staging system is for lymph nodes. Lymph nodes near the head and neck are called regional lymph nodes. Lymph nodes in other parts of the body are called distant lymph nodes. There are many nodes located in the head and neck area, and careful evaluation of lymph nodes is an important part of staging cancer of the major salivary glands.

NX: Indicates the regional lymph nodes cannot be evaluated.

N0: There is no evidence of cancer in the regional nodes.

N1: Indicates that cancer has spread to a single node on the same side as the primary tumor, and the cancer found in the node is 3 cm or smaller.

N2: Describes any of these conditions:

  • N2a: The cancer has spread to a single lymph node on the same side as the primary tumor and is larger than 3 cm, but not larger than 6 cm.

  • N2b: The cancer has spread to more than one lymph node on the same side as the primary tumor, and none measure larger than 6 cm.

  • N2c: The cancer has spread to more than one lymph node on either side of the body, and none measure larger than 6 cm.

N3: The cancer found in the lymph nodes is larger than 6 cm.

Metastasis (M)

The "M" in the TNM system describes cancer that has spread to other parts of the body, called distant metastasis.

MX: Indicates distant metastasis cannot be evaluated.

M0: Indicates the cancer has not spread to other parts of the body.

M1: Describes cancer that has spread to other parts of the body.

Cancer stage grouping

Doctors assign the stage of the cancer by combining the T, N, and M classifications.

Stage I: Describes noninvasive tumors (T1, T2) with no spread to lymph nodes (N0) and no distant metastasis (M0).

Salivary Gland Cancer Stage I

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Stage II: Describes an invasive tumor (T3) with no spread to lymph nodes (N0) or distant metastasis (M0).

Salivary Gland Cancer Stage II

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Stage III: Describes smaller tumors (T1, T2) that have spread to regional lymph nodes (N1), but have no sign of metastasis (M0).

Salivary Gland Cancer Stage III

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Stage IVA: Describes any invasive tumor (T4a) with either no lymph node involvement (N0) or spread to only a single same-sided lymph node (N1), but no metastasis (M0). It is also used for a T3 tumor with one-sided nodal involvement (N1) but no metastasis (M0), or any tumor (any T) with extensive nodal involvement (N2).

Salivary Gland Cancer Stage IVA

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Stage IVB: Describes any cancer (any T), with more extensive spread to lymph nodes (N2, N3), but no metastasis (M0).

Salivary Gland Cancer Stage IVB

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Stage IVC: Describes any cancer with distant metastasis (any T, any N, and M1).

Salivary Gland Cancer Stage IVC

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Recurrent: Recurrent cancer is cancer that has come back after treatment. If the cancer does return, there will be another round of tests to learn about the extent of the recurrence. These tests and scans are often similar to those done at the time of the original diagnosis.

Used with permission of the American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC), Chicago, Illinois. The original source for this material is the AJCC Cancer Staging Manual, Seventh Edition published by Springer-Verlag New York, www.cancerstaging.net.

Grade (G)

Doctors also describe this type of cancer by its grade (G), which describes how much cancer cells look like healthy cells when viewed under a microscope. The doctor compares the cancerous tissue with healthy tissue. Healthy tissue usually contains many different types of cells grouped together. If the cancer looks similar to healthy tissue and contains different cell groupings, it is called differentiated or a low-grade tumor. If the cancerous tissue looks very different from healthy tissue, it is called poorly differentiated or a high-grade tumor. The cancer’s grade may help the doctor predict how quickly the cancer will spread. In general, the lower the tumor’s grade, the better the prognosis.

Information about the cancer’s stage and grade will help the doctor recommend a specific treatment plan. The next section in this guide is Treatment Options. Or, use the menu on the side of your screen to choose another section to continue reading this guide.

Salivary Gland Cancer - Treatment Options

This section has been reviewed and 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 cancer. 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 cancer. 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, visit the About Clinical Trials and Latest Research sections.

Treatment overview

Cancer of the salivary gland can often be cured, especially if found early. Although curing the cancer is the primary goal of treatment, preserving the function of the nearby nerves, organs, and tissues is also very important. When doctors plan treatment, they consider how treatment might affect a person’s quality of life, including how a person feels, looks, talks, eats, and breathes.

In cancer care, 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. An evaluation should be done by each head and neck specialist before any treatment begins. The team may include medical, surgical, and radiation oncologists; otolaryngologists (ear, nose, and throat doctors); maxillofacial prosthodontists (specialists who perform restorative surgery in the head and neck areas); dentists; physical therapists; speech pathologists; and psychiatrists. Cancer care teams also include a variety of other health care professionals, including physician assistants, oncology nurses, social workers, pharmacists, counselors, dietitians, and others.

Descriptions of the most common treatment options for salivary gland cancer are listed below. Treatment options and recommendations depend on several factors, including the type, stage, and location of cancer, possible side effects, and the patient’s preferences and overall health. 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

Surgery is recommended for nearly everyone diagnosed with salivary gland cancer and is usually the first treatment. During surgery, a doctor performs an operation to remove the cancerous tumor and some surrounding healthy tissue, called a margin. A surgical oncologist is a doctor who specializes in treating cancer using surgery.

The goal of surgery is to remove as much of the tumor as possible and leave negative margins. This means no trace of cancer was found in the healthy tissue that was removed. The type of surgery depends on the location and extent of the tumor.

Types of surgery used to treat salivary gland cancer include:

  • Parotidectomy. The removal of the parotid gland is called a parotidectomy. This surgery may involve the facial nerve. If cancer has spread to the facial nerve, frequently a nerve graft is necessary for the person to regain use of some facial muscles. Any tissue that is removed can often be restored through reconstructive surgery (see below) and tissue transplantation. 

  • Endoscopic surgery. Occasionally, it is possible to remove the tumor by endoscopic surgery (see Endoscopy, under Diagnosis), which is less destructive to healthy tissues than conventional surgery. This is used particularly when a salivary gland tumor begins in the paranasal area (around the nose) or in the larynx. However, this is rare. More often, a tumor may be found unexpectedly during endoscopic surgery for what is believed to be chronic sinusitis (inflammation).

  • Neck dissection. A neck dissection is when the surgeon removes lymph nodes in the neck. This may be performed if the doctor suspects that the cancer has spread. A neck dissection may cause numbness of the ear, weakness when raising the arm above the head, and weakness of the lower lip. These side effects are caused by injury to nerves in the area. Depending on the type of neck dissection, weakness of the lower lip and arm may go away in a few months. Weakness will be permanent if a nerve is removed as part of the dissection.

  • Reconstructive surgery. Reconstructive (plastic) surgery may be used to replace tissue and nerves that were removed during surgery to eliminate the cancer.

Learn more about the basics of cancer surgery.

Surgery can have significant risks because the cancer may be close to the eyes, mouth, brain, and important nerves and blood vessels. Surgical side effects can include swelling of the face, mouth, and throat, which makes it difficult to breathe and swallow. Frequently, a person may receive a temporary tracheostomy (hole in the windpipe) to make breathing easier.

Facial nerves may also be affected, either temporarily or permanently. Changes to a person’s appearance because of surgery may need to be addressed using reconstructive plastic surgery. If the maxilla (upper jaw) is removed, a prosthodontist will play a large role in the rehabilitation process. A prosthodontist is a dentist who specializes in replacing teeth and parts of the jaw. Learn more about cancer rehabilitation.

Surgery is typically followed by additional treatment, most often radiation therapy. Sometimes, more than one operation may be needed to remove the cancer and to help restore the appearance and function of the tissues affected. Occasionally, it is not possible to remove salivary gland cancer using surgery. This type of tumor is called inoperable. In these cases, doctors will recommend other treatment options (see below).

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy is the use of high-energy x-rays or other particles to destroy cancer cells. 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 set period of time.

There are two main types of radiation therapy used for salivary gland cancer:

  • External-beam radiation therapy. The most common type of radiation treatment is called external-beam radiation therapy, which is radiation given from a machine outside the body. External-beam radiation therapy may be used when a tumor has grown into the soft tissue, has spread to the lymph nodes, or surrounds a nerve. Doctors also recommend this type of radiation therapy for poorly differentiated tumors. (See the Stages and Grades section for more information.)

    A specific method of external radiation therapy, known as intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT), allows for more effective doses of radiation therapy to be delivered while reducing damage to nearby healthy cells. Another type of external-beam radiation therapy used for salivary gland tumors is proton therapy. At high energy, protons can destroy cancer cells. Proton therapy may be used when a tumor is located close to structures of the central nervous system, such as the brain and spinal cord.

  • Internal radiation therapy. When radiation is given using implants, it is called internal radiation therapy or brachytherapy. Internal radiation therapy involves surgically implanting tiny pellets or rods containing radioactive materials in or near the tumor.

For a salivary gland tumor, radiation therapy is most often used in combination with surgery. Radiation therapy may also be given along with chemotherapy (see below). If a person cannot have surgery or decides not to have surgery, radiation therapy may be used as the main treatment.

Before beginning radiation treatment for salivary gland cancer, a person should receive a thorough examination from an oncologic dentist. An oncologic dentist is experienced in treating people with head and neck cancer. Radiation therapy can cause tooth decay. Often, tooth decay can be prevented with proper treatment from a dentist before beginning treatment. Learn more about dental and oral health.

Other side effects from radiation therapy to the head and neck may include redness or skin irritation in the treated area, dry mouth (xerostomia) or thickened saliva from damage to salivary glands, bone pain, nausea, fatigue, mouth sores, and/or sore throat. People may also experience pain or difficulty swallowing; loss of appetite, often due to a change in sense of taste; hearing loss, due to the buildup of fluid in the middle ear; and buildup of earwax that dries out because of the radiation therapy’s effect on the ear canal.

Radiation therapy may also cause a condition called hypothyroidism in which the thyroid gland (located in the neck) slows down and causes the person to feel tired and sluggish. People who receive radiation therapy to the neck area should have their thyroid checked regularly. Talk with your health care team about what side effects of your treatment plan are possible, and how they can be prevented or managed.

Learn more about the basics of radiation therapy.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to destroy cancer 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 cancer with medication.

Systemic chemotherapy gets into the bloodstream to reach cancer 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 (orally).

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 a combination of different drugs at the same time.

Chemotherapy is seldom used in the initial treatment of salivary gland cancer. Combining chemotherapy with radiation therapy is being studied as part of clinical trials to determine its effectiveness. For salivary gland cancer, chemotherapy is most often used to treat later stage cancer or to relieve symptoms. Some chemotherapy drugs are available in clinical trials that may treat cancer at an earlier stage.

Each drug or combination of drugs can cause specific side effects, and it is important to talk with your doctor about which side effects to expect and whether any may be permanent. In general, chemotherapy side effects can include fatigue; nausea; vomiting; hair loss; dry mouth; loss of appetite, often due to a change in sense of taste; weakened immune system; diarrhea and/or constipation; and open sores in the mouth. Open sores in the mouth, coupled with a low immunity, can lead to infections. Talk with your health care team about how they can help manage or relieve treatment side effects.

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.

Getting care for symptoms and side effects

Cancer and its treatment often cause side effects. In addition to treatment to slow, stop, or eliminate the cancer, an important part of cancer 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 cancer, 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 cancer 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 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 your 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 salivary gland cancer

If cancer has spread to another location in the body, it is called metastatic 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 one or more of the treatments listed above. Typically, the main treatment is chemotherapy or taking part in a clinical trial. 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 cancer 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 cancer will come back. While many remissions are permanent, it’s important to talk with your doctor about the possibility of the cancer returning. Understanding your risk of recurrence and the treatment options may help you feel more prepared if the cancer does return. Learn more about coping with the fear of recurrence.

If the cancer does return after the original treatment, it is called recurrent cancer. 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, radiation therapy, or chemotherapy, but they may be used in a different combination or given at a different pace. Your doctor may also suggest clinical trials that are studying new ways to treat this type of recurrent cancer. Whichever treatment plan you choose, palliative care will be important for relieving symptoms and side effects.

People with recurrent cancer 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 cancer recurrence.

If treatment fails

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

This diagnosis is stressful, and advanced cancer may be difficult to discuss. 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 advanced cancer 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 cancer. Or, use the menu on the side of your screen to choose another section to continue reading this guide.

Salivary Gland Cancer - About Clinical Trials

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 08/2015

ON THIS PAGE: You will learn more about clinical trials, which are the main way that new medical approaches are tested to see how well they work. To see other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen.

What are clinical trials?

Doctors and scientists are always looking for better ways to care for patients with salivary gland cancer. To make scientific advances, doctors create research studies involving volunteers, called clinical trials. In fact, every drug that is now approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was previously tested in clinical trials.

Many clinical trials are focused on new treatments, evaluating whether a new treatment is safe, effective, and possibly better than the current (standard) treatment. These types of studies evaluate new drugs, different combinations of existing treatments, new approaches to radiation therapy or surgery, and new methods of treatment. Patients who participate in clinical trials are among the first to receive new treatments before they are widely available. However, there is no guarantee that the new treatment will be safe, effective, or better than a standard treatment.

There are also clinical trials that study new ways to ease symptoms and side effects during treatment and manage the late effects that may occur after treatment. Talk with your doctor about clinical trials regarding side effects.

Deciding to join a clinical trial

Patients decide to participate in clinical trials for many reasons. For some patients, a clinical trial is the best treatment option available. Because standard treatments are not perfect, patients are often willing to face the added uncertainty of a clinical trial in the hope of a better result. Other patients volunteer for clinical trials because they know that finding these studies are the only way to make progress in treating salivary gland cancer. Even if they do not benefit directly from the clinical trial, their participation may benefit future patients with salivary gland cancer.

Sometimes people have concerns that, in a clinical trial, they may receive no treatment by being given a placebo or a “sugar pill.” However, placebos are usually combined with standard treatment in most cancer clinical trials. When a placebo is used in a study, it is done with the full knowledge of the participants. Find out more about placebos in cancer clinical trials

Patient safety and informed consent

To join a clinical trial, patients must participate in a process known as informed consent. During informed consent, the doctor should list all of the patient’s options so that the person understands how the new treatment differs from the standard treatment. The doctor must also list all of the risks of the new treatment, which may or may not be different than the risks of standard treatment. Finally, the doctor must explain what will be required of each patient in order to participate in the clinical trial, including the number of doctor visits, tests, and the schedule of treatment.

Patients who participate in a clinical trial may stop participating at any time for any personal or medical reason. This may include that the new treatment is not working or there are serious side effects. Clinical trials are also closely monitored by experts who watch for any problems with each study. It is important that patients participating in a clinical trial talk with their doctor and researchers about who will be providing their treatment and care during the clinical trial, after the clinical trial ends, and/or if the patient chooses to leave the clinical trial before it ends.

Finding a clinical trial

Research through clinical trials is ongoing for all types of cancer. For specific topics being studied for salivary gland cancer, learn more in the Latest Research section.

Cancer.Net offers a lot of information about cancer clinical trials in other areas of the website, including a complete section on clinical trials and places to search for clinical trials for a specific type of cancer.

In addition, this website offers free access to a video-based educational program about cancer clinical trials, located outside of this guide.

The next section in this guide is Latest Research, and it explains areas of scientific research currently going on for this type of cancer. Or, use the menu on the side of your screen to choose another section to continue reading this guide.

Salivary Gland Cancer - Latest Research

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 08/2015

ON THIS PAGE: You will read about the scientific research being done now to learn more about this type of cancer and how to treat it. To see other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen.

Doctors are working to learn more about salivary gland cancer, ways to prevent it, how to best treat it, and how to provide the best care to people diagnosed with this disease. The following areas of research may include new options for patients through clinical trials. Always talk with your doctor about the diagnostic and treatment options best for you.

  • Combining treatments. There is ongoing research looking at the benefit of different treatment approaches, especially the use of concomitant treatment, which combines more than one treatment.

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

  • Virus research. Researchers are studying the role of a common virus called cytomegalovirus in the development of salivary gland cancer and how that link could be used to find new treatments.

  • Tumor genetics. Early laboratory research indicates that genetic changes in a salivary gland tumor, particularly those related to the tumor suppressor genes APC and PTEN, may help provide new targets for treatments. Salivary gland cancer requires additional scientific understanding regarding the tumor genetics of this type of cancer. As scientists make advances in the basic fundamental knowledge of genetics and how these cancers develop, new treatment options based on these findings will develop. Learn more about targeted therapy.

  • Radiosensitizers. Researchers are investigating the use of radiosensitizers in the treatment of salivary gland cancer. Radiosensitizers are drugs that make tumor cells more sensitive to radiation therapy, making radiation therapy more effective.

  • Palliative care. Clinical trials are underway to find better ways to reduce or treat the side effects of cancer therapy, to improve patients’ quality of life.

Looking for More About the Latest Research?

If you would like additional information about the latest areas of research regarding salivary gland cancer, explore these related items that take you outside of this guide:

The next section in this guide is Coping with Side Effects, and it offers some guidance in how to cope with the physical, emotional, and social changes that cancer and its treatment can bring. Or, use the menu on the side of your screen to choose another section to continue reading this guide.

Salivary Gland Cancer - Coping with Side Effects

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 08/2015

ON THIS PAGE: You will find out more about steps to take to help cope with physical, social, and emotional side effects. This page includes several links outside of this guide to other sections of this website. To see other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen.

Fear of treatment side effects is common after a diagnosis of cancer, but it may help to know that preventing and controlling side effects is a major focus of your health care team. This is called palliative care, and it is an important part of the overall treatment plan, regardless of the stage of disease.

There are possible side effects for every cancer treatment, but patients don’t experience the same side effects when given the same treatments for many reasons. That can make it hard to predict exactly how you will feel during treatment.

Common side effects from each treatment option for salivary gland cancer are described in detail in the Treatment Options section. Learn more about the most common side effects of cancer and different treatments, along with ways to prevent or control them. Side effects depend on a variety of factors, including the cancer’s stage, the length and dosage of treatment(s), and your overall health.

Talking with your health care team about side effects

Before treatment begins, talk with your doctor about possible side effects of each type of treatment you will be receiving. Ask which side effects are most likely to happen, when they are likely to occur, and what can be done to prevent or relieve then.

And, ask about the level of caregiving you may need during treatment and recovery, as family members and friends often play an important role in the care of a person with salivary gland cancer. Learn more about caregiving.

In addition to physical side effects, there may be emotional and social effects as well. Patients and their families are encouraged to share their feelings with a member of their health care team who can help with coping strategies, including concerns about managing the cost of cancer care.

During and after treatment, be sure to tell the health care team about the side effects you experience, even if you feel they are not serious. Sometimes, side effects can last beyond the treatment period, called a long-term side effect. A side effect that occurs months or years after treatment is called a late effect. Treatment of both types of effects is an important part of survivorship care. Learn more by reading the Follow-Up Care section of this guide or talking with your doctor.

The next section in this guide is Follow-Up Care, and it explains the importance of check-ups after cancer treatment is finished. Or, use the menu on the side of your screen to choose another section to continue reading this guide.  

Salivary Gland Cancer - Follow-Up Care

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 08/2015

ON THIS PAGE: You will read about your medical care after cancer treatment is completed, and why this follow-up care is important. To see other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen.

Care for people diagnosed with cancer doesn’t end when active treatment has finished. Your health care team will continue to check to make sure the cancer has not returned, manage any side effects, and monitor your overall health. This is called follow-up care.

This plan may include regular physical examinations and/or medical tests to monitor your recovery for the coming months and years. Diagnostic examinations, including CT scans, may be done to watch for potential recurrences or to monitor how well treatment is working. Most recurrences happen within the first two or three years after salivary gland cancer is diagnosed, so follow-up visits will be more frequent during the first two years.

Watching for recurrence

People with a history of salivary gland cancer need to be monitored throughout their lifetime for the possibility of recurrence or distant metastasis. Cancer recurs because small areas of cancer cells may remain undetected in the body. Over time, these cells may increase in number until they show up on test results or cause signs or symptoms.

During follow-up care, a doctor familiar with your medical history can give you personalized information about your risk of recurrence. Your doctor will also ask specific questions about your health. Some people may have blood tests or imaging tests as part of regular follow-up care, but testing recommendations depend on several factors including the type and stage of cancer originally diagnosed and the types of treatment given.

Managing long-term and late side effects

Most people expect to experience side effects when receiving treatment. However, it is often surprising to survivors that some side effects may linger beyond the treatment period. These are called long-term side effects. In addition, other side effects called late effects may develop months or even years afterwards. Long-term and late effects can include both physical and emotional changes.

Talk with your doctor about your risk of developing such side effects based on the type of cancer, your individual treatment plan, and your overall health. If you had a treatment known to cause specific late effects, you may also have certain physical examinations, scans, or blood tests to help find and manage them.

For people who had radiation therapy, periodic ear examinations are necessary to remove dried earwax buildup. Prevention of dental cavities is also important. Fluoride application is recommended whenever radiation therapy is directed at the oral cavity (mouth) and the salivary glands.

Rehabilitation is a major part of follow-up care after head and neck cancer treatment. People may need physical therapy and speech therapy to regain skills, such as talking and swallowing. Palliative care to manage symptoms and maintain nutrition during and after treatment may be recommended. Some people may need to learn new ways to eat or to have foods prepared differently. Special care of the eye is necessary if there is nerve function loss. Special procedures, such as moving a paralyzed vocal cord to improve voice, may be necessary after a large skull base tumor has been removed. Exposure to direct sunlight on affected skin should be avoided if radiation therapy has been used as part of the treatment.

After treatment for salivary gland cancer, people may look different, feel tired, and be unable to talk or eat the way they used to. Many people experience depression. The health care team can help people cope and connect them with support services.

Keeping personal health records

You and your doctor should work together to develop a personalized follow-up care plan. Be sure to ask about any concerns you have about your future physical or emotional health. ASCO offers forms to help create a treatment summary to keep track of the cancer treatment you received and develop a survivorship care plan once treatment is completed.

This is also a good time to decide who will lead your follow-up care. Some survivors continue to see their oncologist, while others transition back to the general care of their family doctor or another health care professional. This decision depends on several factors, including the type and stage of cancer, side effects, health insurance rules, and your personal preferences.

If a doctor who was not directly involved in your cancer care will lead your follow-up care, be sure to share your cancer treatment summary and survivorship care plan forms with him or her, as well as all future health care providers. Details about your cancer treatment are very valuable to the health care professionals who will care for you throughout your lifetime.

The next section in this guide is Survivorship, and it describes how to cope with challenges in everyday life after a cancer diagnosis. Or, use the menu on the side of your screen to choose another section to continue reading this guide.

Salivary Gland Cancer - Survivorship

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 08/2015

ON THIS PAGE: You will read about how to cope with challenges in everyday life after a cancer diagnosis. To see other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen.

What is survivorship?

The word survivorship means different things to different people. Two common definitions include:

  • Having no signs of cancer after finishing treatment.

  • The process of living with, through, and beyond cancer. According to this definition, cancer survivorship begins at diagnosis and includes people who continue to have treatment over the long term, to either reduce the risk of recurrence or to manage chronic disease.

In some ways, survivorship is one of the most complex aspects of the cancer experience because it is different for every person.

Survivors may experience a mixture of strong feelings, including joy, concern, relief, guilt, and fear. Some people say they appreciate life more after a cancer diagnosis and have gained a greater acceptance of themselves. Others become very anxious about their health and uncertain of how to cope with everyday life.

Survivors may feel some stress when frequent visits to the health care team end following treatment. Often, relationships built with the cancer care team provide a sense of security during treatment, and people miss this source of support. This may be especially true as new worries and challenges surface over time, such as any late effects of treatment, emotional challenges including fear of recurrence, sexuality and fertility concerns, and financial and workplace issues.

Every survivor has individual concerns and challenges. With any challenge, a good first step is being able to recognize your fears and talk about them. Effective coping requires:

  • Understanding the challenge you are facing,

  • Thinking through solutions,

  • Asking for and allowing the support of others, and

  • Feeling comfortable with the course of action you choose.

Many survivors find it helpful to join an in-person support group or an online community of survivors. This allows you to talk with people who have had similar first-hand experiences. Other options for finding support include talking with a friend or member of your health care team, individual counseling, or asking for assistance at the learning resource center of the center where you received treatment.

Changing role of caregivers

Family members and friends may also go through periods of transition. A caregiver plays a very important role in supporting a person diagnosed with cancer, providing physical, emotional, and practical care on a daily or as-needed basis. Many caregivers become focused on providing this support, especially if the treatment period lasts for many months or longer.

However, as treatment is completed, the caregiver's role often changes. Eventually, the need for caregiving related to the cancer diagnosis will become much less or come to an end. Caregivers can learn more about adjusting to life after caregiving in this article.

A new perspective on your health

For many people, survivorship serves as a strong motivator to make positive lifestyle changes. 

People recovering from salivary gland cancer are encouraged to follow established guidelines for good health, such as not smoking, limiting alcohol, eating well, and managing stress. Regular physical activity can help rebuild your strength and energy level. Your health care team can help you create an appropriate exercise plan based upon your needs, physical abilities, and fitness level. Learn more about making healthy lifestyle choices.

In addition, it is important to have recommended medical check-ups and tests to take care of your health. Cancer rehabilitation may also be recommended, and this could mean any of a wide range of services such as physical therapy, career counseling, pain management, nutritional planning, and/or emotional counseling. The goal of rehabilitation is to help people regain control over many aspects of their lives and remain as independent and productive as possible. See the Follow-Up Care section for more information about rehabilitation.

Talk with your doctor to develop a survivorship care plan that is best for your needs.

Looking for More Survivorship Resources?

For more information about cancer survivorship, explore these related items. Please note these links will take you to other sections of Cancer.Net:

  • ASCO Answers Cancer Survivorship Guide: This 44-page booklet (available as a PDF) helps people transition into life after treatment. It includes blank treatment summary and survivorship care plan forms.

  • Cancer.Net Patient Education Video: View a short video led by an ASCO expert that provides information about what comes next after finishing treatment.

  • Survivorship Resources: Cancer.Net offers an entire area of this website with resources to help survivors, including for survivors in different age groups.

The next section offers Questions to Ask the Doctor to help start conversations with your cancer care team. Or, use the menu on the side of your screen to choose another section to continue reading this guide.

Salivary Gland Cancer - Questions to Ask the Doctor

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 08/2015

ON THIS PAGE: You will find some questions to ask your doctor or other members of your health care team, to help you better understand your diagnosis, treatment plan, and overall care. To see other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen.

Talking often with the doctor is important to make informed decisions about your health care. These suggested questions are a starting point to help you learn more about your cancer care and treatment. You are also encouraged to ask additional questions that are important to you. You may want to print this list and bring it to your next appointment, or download Cancer.Net’s free mobile app for an e-list and other interactive tools to manage your care.

Questions to ask after getting a diagnosis

  • What type of salivary gland cancer do I have? What does this mean?

  • Where is the cancer located?

  • Can you explain my pathology report (laboratory test results) to me?

  • What stage is the cancer? What does this mean?

  • What is the grade of the cancer? How likely is it to grow and spread?

Questions to ask about choosing a treatment and managing side effects

  • What are my treatment options?

  • What clinical trials are open to me? Where are they located, and how do I find out more about them?

  • What treatment plan do you recommend? Why?

  • What is the goal of each treatment? Is it to eliminate the cancer, help me feel better, or both?

  • Should I get a second opinion?

  • What are the possible side effects of each treatment, both in the short term and the long term?

  • Who will be part of my health care team, and what does each member do?

  • When should I talk with a dentist? Can you recommend an oncologic dentist?

  • Should I talk with other specialists, such as a speech pathologist, before treatment begins?

  • Who will be coordinating my overall treatment?

  • How will this treatment affect my daily life? Will I be able to work, exercise, or perform my usual activities?

  • Could this treatment affect my sex life? If so, how and for how long?

  • Could this treatment affect my ability to become pregnant or have children? If so, should I talk with a fertility specialist before cancer treatment begins?

  • If I’m worried about managing the costs related to my cancer care, who can help me with these concerns?

  • What support services are available to me? To my family?

  • Whom should I call for questions or problems?

  • Is there anything else I should be asking?

Questions to ask about having surgery

  • Can the tumor be completely removed using surgery?

  • What type of surgery will I have? Will lymph nodes need to be removed?

  • If so, what type of neck dissection will be done? What does this mean?

  • Will it be necessary to remove part or all of the facial nerve? If so, can this nerve be reconstructed or can some of the function be recovered?

  • Will it be necessary to have reconstructive surgery to replace lost tissue?

  • How long will the operation take?

  • How long will I be in the hospital?

  • Can you describe what my recovery from surgery will be like?

  • What are the possible long-term effects of having this surgery?

  • Do you recommend additional treatment, such as radiation therapy?

Questions to ask about having radiation therapy or chemotherapy

  • What type of treatment is recommended?

  • What is the goal of this treatment?

  • How long will it take to give this treatment?

  • What side effects can I expect during treatment?

  • What are the possible long-term effects of having this treatment?

  • What can be done to relieve the side effects?

Questions to ask about planning follow-up care

  • What is the risk of the cancer returning? Are there signs and symptoms I should watch for?

  • What long-term side effects or late effects are possible based on the cancer treatment I received?

  • What follow-up tests will I need, and how often will I need them?

  • How do I get a treatment summary and survivorship care plan to keep in my personal records?

  • Who will be coordinating my follow-up care?

  • What survivorship support services are available to me? To my family?

The next section in this guide is Additional Resources, and it offers some more resources on this website beyond this guide that may be helpful to you. Or, use the menu on the side of your screen to choose another section to continue reading this guide.

Salivary Gland Cancer - Additional Resources

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 08/2015

ON THIS PAGE: You will find some helpful links to other areas of Cancer.Net that provide information about cancer care and treatment. This is the final page of Cancer.Net’s Guide to Salivary Gland Cancer. To go back and review other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen.

Cancer.Net includes many other sections about the medical and emotional aspects of cancer, both for the person diagnosed and their family members and friends. This website is meant to be a resource for you and your loved ones from the time of diagnosis, through treatment, and beyond.

Beyond this guide, here are a few links to help you explore other parts of Cancer.Net:

This is the end of the Cancer.Net’s Guide to Salivary Gland Cancer. Use the menu on the side of your screen to select another section to continue reading this guide.