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Most lumps in the salivary glands are not cancerous but may still need to be removed
The three main salivary glands are:
A lump (tumour) can occur in any of your salivary glands but are most common in the parotid glands. Most salivary gland tumours are benign (non-cancerous), but in rare cases may be malignant (cancerous). If left untreated a benign salivary gland tumour can become malignant.
Call or book online today to arrange a consultation to discuss private salivary gland tumour treatment with a consultant of your choice at Circle Health Group.
Symptoms of salivary gland tumours may include:
Salivary gland tumours occur when cells develop changes in their DNA causing them to grow and divide rapidly. The rapidly dividing cells form a lump (tumour). What causes this is unclear.
You may be more likely to develop a salivary gland tumour if you:
Your consultant will ask you about your symptoms, general health, and medical history. They will perform a physical examination and feel your jaw, neck and throat for any lumps or swelling.
They may order tests and scans including:
Your consultant will make a diagnosis based on your symptoms, physical examination and the results of your tests and scans. The only way to definitively diagnose salivary gland cancer is with a biopsy.
At Circle Health Group, your first appointment is where we get to know you, discuss your expectations for treatment and encourage you to ask any questions you may have.
After making a diagnosis, your consultant will discuss possible treatment options with you and decide on the best option based on your symptoms and diagnosis.
Salivary gland lumps are normally removed with surgery. If your salivary gland tumour is benign, removal is still recommended as it can become large and unsightly or may become infected or cancerous.
Your consultant may remove all or part of your salivary gland.
The most common type of salivary gland tumour occurs in the parotid salivary gland. During a parotidectomy, your consultant makes an incision in front of your ear that may extend to your neck. A parotidectomy can be superficial (partial) where only the lump and surrounding tissues are removed, or total where the entire parotid gland is removed.
If your tumour is in the submandibular or sublingual salivary gland, your consultant will remove the entire gland. A major facial nerve that controls the tongue including sensation and taste and the lower half of the face is located close to these glands and there is a risk that this nerve may be damaged during surgery.
If your tumour is cancerous, your consultant may need to remove some of the surrounding tissue, bones, and nerves. If your facial nerve needs to be removed during your surgery, your consultant will discuss this with you before your operation.
Minor salivary gland tumours can occur in the mouth, lips, tongue, roof of the mouth, nose, voice box, throat, and sinuses. Depending on the size and location of the tumour, your consultant will remove the salivary gland and some of the surrounding tissue.
If your tumour is cancerous and there is a risk that the cancer has spread to your lymph nodes, your consultant may remove them.
If bone, skin, tissue, or nerves were removed during your surgery, you may need reconstructive surgery to rebuild and repair the area. Reconstructive surgery aims to restore your appearance as well as to improve function and your ability to speak, chew, swallow, and move your face.
If your salivary gland tumour is found to be cancerous, you may need additional treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
Chemotherapy involves giving powerful drugs to destroy cancer cells. You may receive chemotherapy if your cancer has spread from your salivary glands to other parts of your body.
During radiotherapy, a machine directs radiation towards the affected part of your body to destroy cancer cells.
Your consultant will tell you everything you need to do to prepare for your surgery. If there's anything you're not sure about, or if you have any questions about how to prepare for your surgery, speak to your consultant or call the hospital for advice. Being well-prepared for your surgery will help to ease any anxiety you may have as well as allow your surgery and recovery to go more smoothly.
Before your surgery, tell your consultant about any medical conditions or allergies you have and any medication you are taking, including over-the-counter medicines.
Your consultant may tell you to stop taking some medications like blood thinners before your operation. This is to reduce the risk of bleeding during and after your surgery.
You will not be able to eat or drink anything from midnight on the day of your operation.
Being in optimal health before your surgery can reduce the risk of complications and speed up your recovery.
To make sure you are as healthy as possible before your surgery:
Surgery to remove a salivary gland tumour is carried out under general anaesthetic, meaning you'll be asleep for the procedure.
Once the anaesthetic has taken effect, your consultant will make an incision (cut) close to where the tumour is located. The tumour, surrounding tissue and in some cases, nearby structures will be removed.
The incision is closed, and in some cases, a sterile dressing is applied.
The tumour will be sent to the laboratory for analysis. This will help your consultant decide whether any further treatment is necessary.
Most salivary gland removal surgery takes between one and two hours.
Your consultant will be able to give you an estimated recovery timeline based on your individual circumstances.
After your surgery, you will be taken to the recovery room where you will be monitored closely until the effects of the anaesthetic have worn off. You will then be taken to your room.
When you wake up from your surgery, you will have a drain (a plastic tube connected to a collection vessel) in place to prevent blood from collecting under the skin. This will be removed before you go home.
You may have some pain after your salivary gland removal. Your healthcare team will give you medication to manage any post-operative pain.
You will normally need to spend one night in hospital after your surgery.
You will not be able to drive yourself home from hospital after your salivary gland tumour removal or for twenty-four hours following a general anaesthetic. Please arrange for someone to come and collect you, or we can organise a taxi if you prefer.
How soon you can go back to work after your surgery depends on how quickly you recover from the surgery and the type of job you do. Most people return to work between a week and two weeks after surgery.
You can drive when you can turn your head comfortably, safely control your vehicle and perform an emergency stop. Check with your consultant and inform your insurance company before driving after your surgery.
Recovery from salivary gland tumour removal is a gradual process that is different for everyone.
You may feel more tired than usual for a week or two after your surgery. It's important to go at your own pace during your recovery and stop if you have pain or feel tired. Follow your consultant's instructions carefully during your recovery and call the hospital if you have any questions or concerns.
You may experience facial weakness and numbness after your surgery. This normally improves within a few weeks.
Most people resume normal activities within two weeks of salivary gland removal surgery.
Possible complications of any surgery include:
Possible complications specific to salivary gland tumour removal include:
Talk to your healthcare provider if you are having difficulty coping after your salivary gland removal surgery.
If you would like to see a consultant or learn more about salivary gland lump removal, book your appointment online today or call a member of our team directly.
Content reviewed by Circle in-house team in April 2023. Next review due April 2026.