Log in »

Surgery to Treat Salivary Gland Tumors

This information describes the different types of salivary gland tumors and the surgeries that are done to treat them.

Your salivary glands make saliva, which helps your body digest food and keeps your mouth moist. Most of your saliva comes from the parotid, submandibular, and sublingual glands (see figure). There are also hundreds of smaller salivary glands in your mouth. They are located under the membranes that line your mouth and throat.

The first symptom of a salivary gland tumor is usually a painless lump. The location of the lump is determined by which gland is affected.

Parotid Gland Tumors

The parotid glands are the largest of all your salivary glands. They are located in front of your ears (see figure). Your facial nerve runs through each parotid gland. This nerve controls the muscles in your face, which allow movements such as raising your eyebrows, closing your eyelids, and smiling. Most salivary gland tumors are located in the parotid gland.

There are 2 types of parotid gland tumors:

  • A superficial parotid gland tumor develops in the part of the gland that lies over your facial nerve.
  • A deep lobe parotid gland tumor develops in the part of the gland that lies under your facial nerve.

Most parotid gland tumors are benign (not cancerous).

Surgery

Your nurse will tell you how to prepare for the surgery. You will stay in the hospital for 2 to 4 days.

Surgery to treat parotid gland tumors is very precise. This is because your facial nerve needs to be protected during surgery. The goal is to remove the entire tumor without harming your facial nerve.

During your surgery, an incision (surgical cut) will be made in front of your ear, down into your neck. Your facial nerve and its branches will be carefully separated from the parotid gland tissue. All of the parotid gland tissue lying around the nerve will be removed.

Any surgery done on the parotid gland can damage the facial nerve. Your surgeon will discuss this with you before your surgery. It may be necessary to remove part or all of your facial nerve. This is to ensure that the tumor is completely removed. If this happens, your surgeon will try to attach part of another nerve to replace your facial nerve. The new nerve would come from another part of your body. This procedure is called nerve grafting.

During your surgery, a drainage tube may be placed in your incision to help prevent fluid from building up in it. This can delay healing. The drainage tube is usually removed before you leave the hospital.

After surgery

  • Even if your facial nerve was preserved, you may have some weakness in your facial muscles after surgery. This is because your facial nerve is moved during your surgery. Unfortunately, we cannot prevent this. This weakness is usually minimal and gets better over time. It can take weeks or months for your facial muscles to recover. If you have facial weakness, your nurse will show you how to do facial exercises that may speed up your recovery.
  • Right after surgery, you may not be able to fully close your eye on the side of your surgery. You will be given ointment and eye drops to protect your eye.
  • If your surgeon had to cut your facial nerve to remove the entire tumor, you will not be able to move that side of your face. This will be permanent. You may then need to have plastic surgery.
  • Patients have very little pain after this surgery. Most patients experience numbness, but it goes away with time. Some numbness of your ear lobe will be permanent.
  • If the tumor is malignant (cancerous), you may need radiation therapy. Only extensive or aggressive tumors need radiation therapy. Your surgeon will discuss your pathology results with you at your first follow-up visit.
  • Surgery on the salivary glands will not affect your saliva production. Saliva production will only be affected if you need radiation therapy after surgery.

Submandibular Gland Tumors

The submandibular glands are the second largest of all your salivary glands. They are located below your mandible, or jawbone (see figure).

Surgery

Your nurse will tell you how to prepare for the surgery. You will stay in the hospital for 24 to 48 hours.

During your surgery, an incision will be made in your upper neck, parallel to your jaw. The tumor will be removed through this incision.

After surgery

  • Surgery to treat these tumors may injure a branch of the facial nerve that controls smiling. If the branch is injured, you will have weakness of your lower lip. It may be permanent on the side of your surgery.
  • You will have a follow-up visit 1 week after your surgery. Your stitches will be removed during this visit.

Sublingual Gland Tumors

The sublingual glands are the smallest of all your salivary glands. They lie on either side of your tongue, in the floor of your mouth.

Sublingual salivary gland tumors are rare. Your surgeon will tell you your options for treating the tumor.

Caring for Yourself at Home

  • Care for your incision as instructed by your nurse.
  • You may resume your usual activities and diet.
  • You will have your first follow-up visit 1 week after you leave the hospital. Call your doctor's office to schedule the appointment.

Call Your Doctor or Nurse if You Have:

  • A temperature of 101° F (38.3° C) or higher
  • Increased discomfort, redness, or swelling near your incision
  • Skin around your incision that is hot to the touch
  • Discharge from your incision