Salivary gland cancer

Treatment options

Following a diagnosis of salivary gland cancer, your cancer care team will discuss treatment options that are suitable for you. This is also a good time to consider if you would like a second opinion.

The most suitable treatment of salivary gland cancer depends on many things.
These include:

  • type and grade of salivary gland cancer

  • size and location of the cancer 

  • whether it has spread

  • personal factors  (e.g. age, general health and treatment history)

  • treatments available (and whether any clinical trials are available)

  • your preferences for treatment. 

Surgery is often the main treatment for salivary gland cancer. This involves cutting the cancer out and, for some patients, taking out the lymph nodes. A week or two after surgery, your pathologist will give a detailed report on the cancer. This will be used by your cancer care team to decide if you need more treatment to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back. This treatment may be radiation therapy alone or radiation combined with chemotherapy (chemoradiation) and, occasionally, it may be radiation therapy followed by chemotherapy.

Adding another treatment after surgery is called adjuvant therapy. Adjuvant therapy usually starts about 4–6 weeks after surgery so that you have time to recover from your surgery. Adjuvant therapy usually lasts for about 6 weeks.

  • Low-grade cancer is usually treated with surgery alone and, usually, the lymph nodes do not need to be removed.
  • High-grade cancer usually involves removing the lymph nodes during surgery and adjuvant radiation therapy after surgery. Sometimes chemotherapy is added, however, this will depend on the features of the cancer, your cancer care team and, sometimes, what clinical trials are available.

Salivary gland cancer can cause physical changes while its treatment can cause side effects. Some of these physical changes and side effects will go away soon after treatment, while others may be long-term or permanent.