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Parotid Gland Tumors

What is a Parotid Gland?

The parotid gland is the largest of the salivary glands and is responsible for making saliva and facilitating chewing and swallowing to begin the digestion of starches. A Parotid tumor can be either benign (non-cancerous), as in most cases, or malignant (cancerous), which is less common, but potentially life-threatening. In rare cases, growths can be enlarged lymph nodes or non-parotid tumors which have spread into the parotid glands.

Parotid gland tumor are abnormal growths in the glands. Most of these growths are benign (non-cancerous), but occasionally they can be malignant (cancerous). On rare occasion, the growths can be enlarged lymph nodes or even non-parotid tumors which have spread into the parotid glands. Of tumors which arise from the parotid tissue, most are slow growing and benign. In contrast, malignant parotid tumors have a range of characteristics and types, with a few being fast growing and life-threatening.

If a tumor of the parotid gland is suspected by you or your primary care doctor, you should be seen by an Ear, Nose, and Throat Surgeon. Diagnosis of salivary gland disease depends on the careful taking of your history, a physical examination, and laboratory tests.

What Treatment Options are Available?

The treatment of choice for parotid tumors is surgery.  Surgical treatment generally requires the partial or complete removal of the parotid gland, a procedure termed parotidectomy.  Besides tumors, there are a few other indications for parotidectomy.  These are chronic infection of the gland, and obstruction of saliva flow. 

For benign tumors that that are not enlarging and causing no symptoms, observation may be a reasonable alternative.  This is especially true if your general medical condition is poor and you cannot safely undergo general anesthesia.  However, in most cases, surgery IS advised as benign tumors have the potential to be cancerous, and are much more difficult to remove the longer they are present and the larger they become.



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