Last Updated on Nov 27, 2014

Prognosis, Staging and Treatment

Tests are done to find out if cancer cells are confined to the salivary gland or spread to other parts of the body. This process is referred to as staging. Based on the extent, the disease is staged into four stages.

  • Early – Stage I and II
  • Late – Stage III & IV

Prognosis (outcome) of the disease depends on the stage of the disease. Higher the stage of disease, worse is the prognosis.

Other factors that determine the prognosis include:

  • The type of salivary gland cancer: For example, malignant cancers have a bad prognosis. It also depends on the type of salivary gland the cancer is in.
  • The type of cancer cells
  • The patient's age and general health condition

Treatment modalities differ according to the type, size and stage of salivary gland cancer. The patient’s general health condition is also considered. Treatment usually involves surgery, with or without radiation therapy.

Surgery

If the cancer is small and located in an easy-to-access spot, only a portion of the affected salivary gland is removed. The entire salivary gland is removed in the case of a large tumour. In case the tumour has spread to adjacent lymph nodes (these are nodes which form part of the immune system), then the affected nodes may be removed along the gland.

Other structures like muscles, nerves may also be removed. Damage to nerves may lead to undesirable side effects like numbness and weakness in your ear, face, neck and shoulder. In cases of extensive dissection, reconstructive surgery may be required. This is done by a plastic surgeon.

However, maximum care is taken to avoid damage to nerves.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment where high-energy x-rays or other types of radiation are used to kill cancer cells or prevent them from growing. There are two types of radiation therapy.

In External radiation therapy, a machine outside the body is used to send radiation toward the cancer. The total dose of radiation therapy is sometimes divided into several smaller, equal doses which are delivered over a period of time spanning over several days. In Internal radiation therapy, a radioactive substance is placed directly into or near the cancer. The type of radiation therapy used depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.

The best results from radiation therapy are obtained in patients who have stopped smoking prior to the initiation of treatment.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy isn't currently used as a standard treatment for salivary gland cancer.

Here drugs are used to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by preventing them from dividing. When chemotherapy is taken by mouth or injected into a vein or muscle, the drugs enter the bloodstream and can reach cancer cells throughout the body, this is called systemic chemotherapy. In regional chemotherapy drugs are placed directly into the spinal column, an organ, or a body cavity. A combination of anti-cancer drugs may be used.

References:

  1. Sabiston Textbook of Surgery, 18th Ed.
  2. Schwartz Manual of Surgery, 8th Ed.
  3. Mayo Clinic
  4. National Cancer Institute

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