Most people with salivary gland cancer have surgery to remove their tumor and part of the surrounding tissue. This tissue might include some healthy tissue from the affected gland or some bone or other soft tissue nearby. Some people have lymph nodes removed from their neck, too—either because a biopsy showed the cancer had spread there or because the cancer is high grade and likely to spread to these nodes.
The facial nerve, a major nerve that control muscles in the face, passes through the parotid gland. If you need surgery to remove cancer from this gland, our surgeons will use techniques to operate on the gland without damaging the nerve, if at all possible. In some cases, there is no way to remove the cancer effectively without removing part of the facial nerve. This can cause side effects, such as paralysis on that side of the face. This may be the best option for some patients. Sometimes doctors can use nerve-grafting procedures to help repair the nerve. To preserve the facial nerve, our doctors sometimes combine more limited surgery with neutron therapy, a powerful form of radiation.
If your cancer is in some other gland beside the parotid, other nerves might be affected by surgery. When you are considering surgery, ask your doctor to explain all the risk and benefits, including how your nerves might be affected.
Salivary gland tumor patients at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance have surgery at University of Washington Medical Center, an SCCA parent organization.