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Salivary Gland Surgery

There are three large salivary glands on each side of the face and mouth — the parotid gland, submandibular gland, and sublingual gland — and numerous other small, unnamed salivary glands — known as minor salivary glands — inside of the mouth. They produce saliva, which helps digest food and keeps bacteria under control in your mouth and gut. If your doctor is concerned about a tumor or cancer in one of these glands, you may need surgery to remove the gland.

Before surgery, you will meet with your team of doctor, including the surgeon. A radiation oncologist (in charge of radiation therapy) and medical oncologist (in charge of chemotherapy), along with speech and swallow therapists are involved with patients who have higher-staged cancers. Together, a comprehensive plan is made so that everyone is clear about the goals of surgery and your treatment and care.

There are risks to any surgery.

Risks for parotid gland surgery include but are not limited to: 

  • Numbness to the ear lobe
  • Scar on the neck or in front of the ear
  • Temporary or permanent weakness of the face muscles
  • Sweating of the skin over the cheek with eating

Risks for submandibular gland surgery include but are not limited to: 

  • Weakness of the tongue muscle which may cause difficulty with talking or chewing
  • Uneven smile or weakness of the muscle that controls the corner of the lip
  • Change in taste
  • Tongue numbness or weakness, which may cause difficulty with talking or chewing

Risks for sublingual gland surgery include but are not limited to:

  • Weakness of the tongue muscle which may cause difficulty with talking or chewing
  • Change in taste
  • Tongue numbness
  • Damage to the duct of the Submandibular gland which may cause swelling or an infection of that gland

Your doctor will go over these in more detail with you and answer any questions that you have. 

If there are lymph nodes that your doctor is concerned may contain cancer cells, a neck dissection also may be performed to remove these lymph nodes.

Sometimes, these tumors get very large and start to invade the tissue and structures surrounding them, even affecting the jaw bone. If the jaw bone is affected, then a mandibulectomy may be recommended.

If the surgery to remove the tumor will leave a large area of dead space or defect, then a tissue flap may be recommended to fill in the space.