About treatment for salivary gland cancer

Salivary gland cancer is a type of head and neck cancer. Cancers affecting the head and neck are not common. People with this type of cancer are usually treated in specialist centres by a team of specialist healthcare professionals.

Your treatment depends on:

Your specialist doctor or nurse will explain the best treatment for you and any likely side effects.

The aim is to treat the cancer, while doing as little damage as possible to your nose, mouth and facial appearance. You may only need one type of treatment. But sometimes two or more treatments are given.

The main treatment for salivary gland cancer is usually surgery. Radiotherapy is often given after surgery to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back. It may also be given if the surgeon was not able to remove all the cancer, or if the cancer comes back after treatment. Sometimes radiotherapy can be given as the main treatment if surgery is not possible.

Radiotherapy or chemotherapy can also be used to control the symptoms of salivary gland cancer that has spread.

Surgery

Surgery is used to remove all or as much of the cancer as possible. If the cancer is small and has not spread, the surgeon may only remove the salivary gland.

Sometimes, the surgeon also needs to remove nearby tissue or bone if it is affected by the cancer. If your surgery involves removing any of these areas, the surgeon may rebuild them with tissue, skin or bone taken from somewhere else in your body.

Sometimes, the surgeon needs to cut or remove part of the facial nerve. They try to avoid nerve damage, but sometimes this is the only way to remove all the cancer. Occasionally, the surgeon takes out some of the neck lymph nodes during surgery, even if they do not show signs of cancer. This is to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back.

Your doctor will explain the operation to you beforehand. You will be able to ask any questions you have about it.

Radiotherapy

Radiotherapy uses high-energy rays to destroy the cancer cells, while doing as little harm as possible to normal cells.

Radiotherapy is often given after surgery to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back. It may also be given if the surgeon was not able to remove all the cancer, or if the cancer comes back after treatment. Sometimes radiotherapy can be given as the main treatment if surgery is not possible.

Radiotherapy may also be used to control symptoms, such as pain, if the cancer has spread to other areas of the body. For this, you might only need a few days of treatment or just a single dose.

You may have side effects during radiotherapy. These usually get better slowly after treatment finishes.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy cancer cells. It is sometimes given to treat the symptoms of salivary gland cancer that has spread. You might have chemotherapy if you have advanced salivary gland cancer and you cannot have surgery or radiotherapy.

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