Salivary Gland Surgery

Memorial Sloan Kettering salivary gland cancer doctor Bhuvanesh Singh during an operation.

For many people with salivary gland tumors, surgery performed by an expert in head and neck operations is the main treatment. Your surgeon may recommend radiation therapy, drug therapy, or a combination of the two depending on the characteristics and stage of the tumor. Reconstructive surgery, dental care, and rehabilitation may also be a part of your care plan.

Memorial Sloan Kettering is a leading center for the treatment of salivary gland cancer and benign salivary gland tumors. U.S. News consistently ranks Memorial Sloan Kettering as a top hospital in the nation for head and neck care. Our nationally and internationally recognized head and neck surgeons offer consultations at our locations across Long Island, Manhattan, New Jersey, and Westchester County.

Here, you can find an overview about the different types of surgeries used to treat salivary gland tumors as well as information on MSK’s expertise.

Parotidectomy

Parotidectomy is the name of the surgery used to remove a benign or cancerous tumor in the parotid glands. This operation requires particular care and expertise on the part of your surgical team because the facial nerve and other structures are nearby.

Find in-depth information about parotidectomy.

Submandibular Gland Excision

To treat a benign or cancerous tumor in the submandibular glands, your surgeon removes (excises) the affected gland.

The submandibular glands are located just below the jaw. Your surgeon will make a cut (an incision) under the jawline to remove the gland and some of the surrounding tissue. The extent of the surgery will depend on the size and type of the tumor being treated.

Submandibular gland excision requires precision on the part of your surgical team. There are important nerves nearby, including:

  • the marginal mandibular nerve, which helps you smile
  • the lingual nerve, which allows sensation in the tongue
  • the hypoglossal nerve, which allows movement in the part of your tongue that helps with speech and swallowing

Your surgeon will attempt to preserve these and other structures during surgery whenever possible, depending on the extent and location of the tumor.

Sublingual Gland Excision

Surgery for tumors in a sublingual gland involves removal (excision) of the entire gland.

The sublingual glands are underneath your tongue on either side of the floor of your mouth. Your surgeon will make a cut (an incision) inside your mouth to remove the gland along with some of the surrounding tissue. The surgical area is often repaired by either closing the gap with stitches (sutures) or grafting the skin.

Sublingual gland excision requires precision on the part of your surgical team because the lingual nerve is nearby. The lingual nerve controls feeling and taste on the side of the tongue. The surgical team will preserve the lingual nerve whenever possible. Afterward, your tongue might be numb on the affected side. This is usually temporary and lasts from a few weeks to a couple of months.

Minor Salivary Gland Cancer Surgery

Minor salivary gland cancer can occur in your lips, tongue, roof of the mouth (palate), inner cheek, throat, voice box (larynx), nose, and sinuses. Your surgeon usually removes some surrounding tissue along with the cancer. The exact details of surgery depend on the size and location of the cancer.

Lymph Node Removal

Salivary gland cancers often spread to the lymph nodes in the neck first before they spread anywhere else. Removing the lymph nodes in the neck (and other nearby tissue) is done at the same time as the surgery to remove the cancer. The goal is to remove lymph nodes shown to contain or that are likely to contain cancer.

Our rehabilitation experts have extensive experience in helping people regain neck and shoulder movement after this procedure.

Recovery from Salivary Gland Surgery

Recovery from salivary gland surgery is different for everyone. Healing time after surgery can range anywhere from a few weeks to a few months.

MSK’s quality-of-life specialists provide comprehensive care to help you recover after surgery.

  • Our speech pathologists help you with any speech or swallowing problems that may arise throughout the course of your care.
  • Wellness therapies can relieve emotional or physical symptoms after surgery. Integrative medicine specialists can also help with potential side effects.
  • Find emotional support through our Counseling Center. Our patient-to-patient support program connects you with other cancer survivors who understand your challenges and concerns.

Learn more about what to expect before, during, and after salivary gland surgery.