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Mayo Clinic Health Library

Parotid tumors

Updated: 06-13-2020

Overview

Parotid tumors are abnormal growths of cells (tumors) that form in the parotid glands. The parotid glands are two salivary glands that sit just in front of the ears on each side of the face. Salivary glands produce saliva to aid in chewing and digesting food.

There are many salivary glands in the lips, cheeks, mouth and throat. Tumors can occur in any of these glands, but the parotid glands are the most common location for salivary gland tumors. Most parotid tumors are noncancerous (benign), though some tumors can become cancerous.

Parotid tumors often cause swelling in the face or jaw that usually isn't painful. Other symptoms include numbness, burning or prickling sensations in the face, or a loss of facial movement.

Parotid tumor treatment is usually with surgery to remove the tumor. If the tumor contains cancer cells, additional treatments might be recommended.

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Diagnosis

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 (biopsy). Your doctor may recommend a needle biopsy procedure, such as fine-needle aspiration or core needle biopsy, to collect a sample of tissue for testing. During a needle biopsy, the doctor inserts a thin needle through your skin and into the affected parotid gland. The needle is used to draw out a sample of cells or fluid.

    In the lab, doctors can determine what types of cells are involved and whether they're cancerous. Your doctor uses this information to determine your prognosis and which treatments are best for you.

  • Imaging tests. Your doctor may recommend imaging tests of your parotid gland to help understand the size of your tumor. If your parotid tumor is cancerous, you may need tests to look for signs that the cancer has spread. Tests may include ultrasound, MRI and CT.
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Treatment

Parotid tumor treatment usually involves surgery to remove the tumor. If the tumor contains cancer cells, your doctor may recommend additional treatments, such as radiation therapy and chemotherapy.

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