The salivary glands are responsible for producing saliva to help you digest food and protect against infections. There are three pairs of major salivary glands; the largest of those, the parotid glands, are found just in front of each ear. Most forms of salivary gland cancer begin in the parotid gland.
Risk factors for parotid cancer include older age, treatment with radiation therapy to the head and neck, and exposure to toxic substances on the job.
Parotid cancer doesn’t always produce symptoms. It may be discovered during a routine exam. If there are signs of cancer, they might include any of the following:
- A lump on the jaw, neck, ear, cheek, lip or inside the mouth.
- Facial numbness or weakness.
- Difficulty swallowing.
- Trouble opening your mouth.
- Pain in the face.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, consult a doctor.
To test for parotid cancer, your doctor will give you a through physical exam, paying special attention to the head, neck, mouth and throat. If a tumor is suspected, tests will be administered; these might include a CT scan, MRI, PET scan, ultrasound and endoscopy. A biopsy will be performed to look for cancerous cells in the tissues. If cancer is confirmed, your doctor will determine its stage in order to recommend a plan for treatment.
Treatment for parotid cancer depends on the type, size and stage of the cancer. Surgery is a common treatment, and may involve removing all or part of the salivary gland or removing lymph nodes in the neck. Radiation therapy relies on using x-rays or other high-powered beams to deliver radiation directly to cancer cells, in order to kill them. Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells.
The prognosis for parotid cancer varies depending on the stage. Survival rates range from 39 to 91 percent for five years, but each case is unique and only your doctor can speculate on your particular case.
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