Because there are many types of salivary gland tissues, there are at least 40 different forms of salivary gland cancer. It is a rare and complex cancer that should only be treated by doctors who are experts in head and neck cancer.

The head and neck cancer doctors at the University of Maryland Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center (UMGCCC) are experienced in treating both cancer and other tumors in the salivary glands.

Treating these tumors can result in side effects to the facial nerves. Our surgeons and radiation oncologists aim to provide less invasive treatment options to reduce the chance of side effects.

Speech therapists, dietitians, physical rehabilitation specialists and plastic surgeons help patients regain function after treatment.

Salivary Gland Cancer Treatment

The UMGCCC head and neck cancer team meets weekly to develop personalized care plans for each patient. Treatment is based on the stage of the cancer as well as how fast-growing it is.

Plans often include a combination of:

Surgery

Removal of the salivary gland tumor and a portion of nearby tissues is the first line of defense. If the cancer has spread to any lymph nodes, these will be taken out as well. Our head and neck surgeons use robotic surgery, when possible. This minimally invasive approach helps patients recover faster and may offer a decrease in side effects.

Radiation Therapy

Often used along with surgery, radiation therapy is killing cancer cells with high-energy radiation. Our doctors have use technology that better targets the cancer tumor and lessens radiation on healthy tissue.

  • For cancers that have returned, internal radiation therapy (brachytherapy) may be a treatment option. It involves placing a radioactive source directly inside the tumor. The source loses its radioactive power over time and can safely remain inside the body.
  • For fast-growing cancers, patients may also be given a radiosensitizer. This is a medication that weakens cancer cells to be better destroyed by radiation treatment.

Chemotherapy

Often used to target cancer cells that remain after radiation, chemotherapy delivers drugs to cancer cells to either kill or stop them from growing. It can be also be used alongside radiation therapy to provide a more powerful than if the treatments were given alone at different times.

Clinical Trials

As a National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, UMGCCC offers a wide array of clinical trials. Clinical trials can give patients an opportunity to try new, promising treatments years before they are widely available.

Salivary Gland Cancer Symptoms

While there are many different types of salivary cancers, the symptoms can include:

  • Painless swelling of a salivary gland
  • A lump in the jaw, cheek, inside the mouth or on the neck near the ear
  • Numbness or weakness that makes it hard to swallow or move your jaw
  • Facial pain

Salivary Gland Cancer Diagnosis

Salivary gland cancer is rare and there are many different types. That's why it's important to choose a cancer center with a pathologist with experience in diagnosing salivary gland cancer.

Diagnosing salivary gland cancer begins with a physical exam. To better examine a tumor, your doctor may:

  • Order imaging tests such as MRI or CT that can show where the tumor is located and if it has spread.
  • Use tests that involve a tiny camera (endoscopy) to look inside the throat and voice box and possibly take a tissue samples
  • Order a biopsy to check the tumor cells for cancer. For salivary cancer, the most common of these is fine-needle aspiration (FNA) biopsy. FNA uses a thin, hollow needle to collect cells from the tumor.

Benign Salivary Gland Tumors

Slightly more than half of the tumors that appear on the salivary glands are not cancer.

Just as our team knows how to correctly diagnose salivary gland cancer, we are also equipped to treat benign (non-cancerous) tumors in these glands. Some growths may be abnormal enough to require surgical removal. Others may only need to be watched.

Make an Appointment

The head and neck cancer team sees patients at a variety of locations in downtown Baltimore near and inside the University of Maryland Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center.

To make an appointment with one of our specialists, please visit Locations and Appointments.

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