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Treatments for salivary gland cancer

If you have salivary gland cancer, your healthcare team will create a treatment plan just for you. It will be based on your needs and may include a combination of different treatments. When deciding which treatments to offer for salivary gland cancer, your healthcare team will consider the:

  • stage of the cancer
  • grade of the cancer
  • salivary gland the tumour started in

You may be offered one or more of the following treatments for salivary gland cancer.

Surgery

Depending on the stage and location of the tumour, you may have the following types of surgery.

Superficial parotidectomy removes part of a parotid gland. It is done to treat low-grade tumours in the superficial lobe of a parotid gland.

Total parotidectomy removes all of a parotid gland. It is done for all tumours except those in the superficial lobe of a parotid gland.

Sialoadenectomy removes a salivary gland. When a submandibular gland is removed, it is called submandibular sialoadenectomy. When a sublingual gland is removed, it is called sublingual sialoadenectomy.

Wide local excision removes the tumour along with a margin of tissue around it. This surgery is used to treat tumours in the sublingual and minor salivary glands.

Neck dissection, or lymphadenectomy, is surgery to remove lymph nodes in the neck. It is done to remove lymph nodes that have cancer in them.

Radiation therapy

Intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) may be given after surgery. It can also be used as the main treatment when surgery is not possible.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is most often used during clinical trials. Experts are trying to find out if it should be a standard treatment for salivary gland cancer. Some evidence suggests that it may be effective in treating some types of salivary gland cancer.

Sometimes chemotherapy is offered when someone chooses not to have radiation therapy or surgery. It may also be used to treat tumours that do not respond to or that come back (recur) after surgery and radiation therapy.

Chemoradiation

Chemoradiation may be used for stage IV salivary gland cancer. It combines chemotherapy with radiation therapy. Chemotherapy is given during the same time period as radiation therapy. Some types of chemotherapy make radiation therapy more effective.

Follow-up care

Follow-up after treatment is an important part of cancer care. You will need to have regular follow-up visits, especially in the first few years after treatment has finished. These visits allow your healthcare team to monitor your progress and recovery from treatment.

Clinical trials

Some clinical trials in Canada are open to people with salivary gland cancer. Clinical trials look at new and better ways to prevent, find and treat cancer. Find out more about clinical trials

Questions to ask about treatment

To make the decisions that are right for you, ask your healthcare team questions about treatment.

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