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Salivary Gland Cancer Treatment (PDQ®): Treatment - Health Professional Information [NCI] - General Information About Salivary Gland Cancer


Most patients with benign tumors of the major or minor salivary glands present with painless swelling of the parotid, submandibular, or the sublingual glands. Neurological signs, such as numbness or weakness caused by nerve involvement, typically indicate a malignancy.[2] Facial nerve weakness that is associated with a parotid or submandibular tumor is an ominous sign. Persistent facial pain is highly suggestive of malignancy; approximately 10% to 15% of malignant parotid neoplasms present with pain.[8,14] (Refer to the PDQ summary on Pain for more information.) The majority of parotid tumors, both benign and malignant, however, present as an asymptomatic mass in the gland.[2,8]

Early-stage low-grade malignant salivary gland tumors are usually curable by adequate surgical resection alone. The prognosis is more favorable when the tumor is in a major salivary gland; the parotid gland is most favorable, then the submandibular gland; the least favorable primary sites are the sublingual and minor salivary glands. Large bulky tumors or high-grade tumors carry a poorer prognosis and may best be treated by surgical resection combined with postoperative radiation therapy.[15] The prognosis also depends on the following:[16,17]

  • Gland in which they arise.
  • Histology.
  • Grade (i.e., degree of malignancy).
  • Extent of primary tumor (i.e., the stage).
  • Whether the tumor involves the facial nerve, has fixation to the skin or deep structures, or has spread to lymph nodes or distant sites.

Overall, clinical stage, particularly tumor size, may be the crucial factor to determine the outcome of salivary gland cancer and may be more important than histologic grade.[18]

Perineural invasion can also occur, particularly in high-grade adenoid cystic carcinoma, and should be specifically identified and treated.[19] Radiation therapy may increase the chance of local control and increase the survival of patients when adequate margins cannot be achieved.[20][Level of evidence: 3iiiDii] Unresectable or recurrent tumors may respond to chemotherapy.[21,22,23] Fast neutron-beam radiation therapy or accelerated hyperfractionated photon-beam schedules have been shown to be effective in the treatment of inoperable, unresectable, and recurrent tumors.[24,25,26]

Complications of surgical treatment for parotid neoplasms include facial nerve dysfunction and Frey syndrome also known as gustatory flushing and sweating and the auriculotemporal syndrome.[8] Frey syndrome has been successfully treated with injections of botulinum toxin A.[27,28,29]


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  8. Gooden E, Witterick IJ, Hacker D, et al.: Parotid gland tumours in 255 consecutive patients: Mount Sinai Hospital's quality assurance review. J Otolaryngol 31 (6): 351-4, 2002.
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  10. Brandwein MS, Ferlito A, Bradley PJ, et al.: Diagnosis and classification of salivary neoplasms: pathologic challenges and relevance to clinical outcomes. Acta Otolaryngol 122 (7): 758-64, 2002.
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  12. Guzzo M, Andreola S, Sirizzotti G, et al.: Mucoepidermoid carcinoma of the salivary glands: clinicopathologic review of 108 patients treated at the National Cancer Institute of Milan. Ann Surg Oncol 9 (7): 688-95, 2002.
  13. Goode RK, Auclair PL, Ellis GL: Mucoepidermoid carcinoma of the major salivary glands: clinical and histopathologic analysis of 234 cases with evaluation of grading criteria. Cancer 82 (7): 1217-24, 1998.
  14. Spiro RH, Huvos AG, Strong EW: Cancer of the parotid gland. A clinicopathologic study of 288 primary cases. Am J Surg 130 (4): 452-9, 1975.
  15. Parsons JT, Mendenhall WM, Stringer SP, et al.: Management of minor salivary gland carcinomas. Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys 35 (3): 443-54, 1996.
  16. Vander Poorten VL, Balm AJ, Hilgers FJ, et al.: The development of a prognostic score for patients with parotid carcinoma. Cancer 85 (9): 2057-67, 1999.
  17. Terhaard CH, Lubsen H, Van der Tweel I, et al.: Salivary gland carcinoma: independent prognostic factors for locoregional control, distant metastases, and overall survival: results of the Dutch head and neck oncology cooperative group. Head Neck 26 (8): 681-92; discussion 692-3, 2004.
  18. Spiro RH: Factors affecting survival in salivary gland cancers. In: McGurk M, Renehan AG, eds.: Controversies in the Management of Salivary Gland Disease. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2001, pp 143-50.
  19. Gormley WB, Sekhar LN, Wright DC, et al.: Management and long-term outcome of adenoid cystic carcinoma with intracranial extension: a neurosurgical perspective. Neurosurgery 38 (6): 1105-12; discussion 1112-3, 1996.
  20. Hosokawa Y, Shirato H, Kagei K, et al.: Role of radiotherapy for mucoepidermoid carcinoma of salivary gland. Oral Oncol 35 (1): 105-11, 1999.
  21. Borthne A, Kjellevold K, Kaalhus O, et al.: Salivary gland malignant neoplasms: treatment and prognosis. Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys 12 (5): 747-54, 1986.
  22. Spiro RH: Salivary neoplasms: overview of a 35-year experience with 2,807 patients. Head Neck Surg 8 (3): 177-84, 1986 Jan-Feb.
  23. Licitra L, Cavina R, Grandi C, et al.: Cisplatin, doxorubicin and cyclophosphamide in advanced salivary gland carcinoma. A phase II trial of 22 patients. Ann Oncol 7 (6): 640-2, 1996.
  24. Wang CC, Goodman M: Photon irradiation of unresectable carcinomas of salivary glands. Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys 21 (3): 569-76, 1991.
  25. Buchholz TA, Laramore GE, Griffin BR, et al.: The role of fast neutron radiation therapy in the management of advanced salivary gland malignant neoplasms. Cancer 69 (11): 2779-88, 1992.
  26. Krüll A, Schwarz R, Engenhart R, et al.: European results in neutron therapy of malignant salivary gland tumors. Bull Cancer Radiother 83 (Suppl): 125-9s, 1996.
  27. Naumann M, Zellner M, Toyka KV, et al.: Treatment of gustatory sweating with botulinum toxin. Ann Neurol 42 (6): 973-5, 1997.
  28. Arad-Cohen A, Blitzer A: Botulinum toxin treatment for symptomatic Frey's syndrome. Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg 122 (2): 237-40, 2000.
  29. von Lindern JJ, Niederhagen B, Bergé S, et al.: Frey syndrome: treatment with type A botulinum toxin. Cancer 89 (8): 1659-63, 2000.

WebMD Public Information from the National Cancer Institute

Last Updated: February 25, 2014
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