Parotid tumors are the most common type of salivary gland tumors, accounting for 80 to 85 percent of all salivary gland tumors. While most parotid tumors are noncancerous (benign), the parotid glands are where nearly 25 percent of cancerous (malignant) salivary gland tumors develop.
The parotid glands, located just in front of the ears on each side of the face, are the largest of the three sets of major salivary glands. They are responsible for producing saliva to aid in chewing and digesting food.
Parotid tumors may present a variety of characteristics. If you have a parotid tumor, you may notice a mass or swelling in your jaw area that may or may not be painful. If the tumor is malignant, it may also affect facial nerves, causing pain, numbness, a burning or prickling sensation, or loss of movement in the face.
Tests and procedures used to diagnose a parotid tumor may include:
- A physical exam. Your doctor will feel your jaw, neck and throat for lumps or swelling.
- Collecting a sample of tissue for testing. Your doctor may recommend collecting a sample of tissue (biopsy) for laboratory testing to determine if the tumor is cancerous.
- Imaging tests. If the parotid tumor is malignant, imaging tests, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computerized tomography (CT), may help your doctor determine the size and location of the cancer.
In most cases, surgery to remove all or a part of the parotid gland (parotidectomy) is the preferred treatment for parotid tumors. Special care must be taken to avoid damaging the facial nerve that runs through the parotid gland. The facial nerve is responsible for controlling facial expressions and movement.
For malignant parotid tumors, your doctor may also recommend radiation therapy. To date, chemotherapy has proved to be ineffective for this type of cancer.