Treating Salivary Gland Cancer

If you've been diagnosed with salivary gland cancer, your cancer care team will discuss your treatment options with you. It's important to weigh the benefits of each treatment option against the possible risks and side effects.

Which treatments are used for salivary gland cancer?

Common treatment options for salivary gland cancer include:

Sometimes more than one type of treatment is used.

Which treatment option(s) might be best for you depends on many factors, including the type, grade, and stage of the cancer; your overall health; the chances of curing the disease; the impact of the treatment on functions like speech, chewing, and swallowing; and your own personal preferences.

See Treatment Options by Stage of Salivary Gland Cancer and Treatment of Recurrent Salivary Gland Cancer for information on the most common treatment plans.

It’s important to discuss all of your treatment options as well as their possible side effects with your family and your treatment team to make the choice that best fits your needs. If there’s anything you don’t understand, ask to have it explained. See What Should You Ask Your Doctor About Salivary Gland Cancer? for some questions to ask.

Who treats salivary gland cancer?

Depending on your situation, you may have different types of doctors on your treatment team:

  • An otolaryngologist (also known as an ear, nose, and throat, or ENT doctor): a surgeon who treats certain diseases of the head and neck
  • A radiation oncologist: a doctor who treats cancer with radiation therapy
  • A medical oncologist: a doctor who treats cancer with medicines such as chemotherapy

Many other specialists may be involved in your care as well, including physician assistants, nurse practitioners, nurses, nutrition specialists, speech therapists, occupational therapists, social workers, and other health professionals.

Getting a second opinion

If you have time, it is often a good idea to seek a second opinion. This can give you more information and help you feel more confident about the treatment plan you choose. If you aren't sure where to go for a second opinion, ask your doctor for help.

Thinking about taking part in a clinical trial

Clinical trials are carefully controlled research studies that are done to get a closer look at promising new treatments or procedures. Clinical trials are one way to get state-of-the art cancer treatment. Sometimes they may be the only way to get access to newer treatments. They are also the best way for doctors to learn better methods to treat cancer. Still, they are not right for everyone.

If you would like to learn more about clinical trials that might be right for you, start by asking your doctor if your clinic or hospital conducts clinical trials. You can also call our clinical trials matching service at 1-800-303-5691 for a list of studies that meet your medical needs, or see the Clinical Trials section to learn more.

Considering complementary and alternative methods

You may hear about alternative or complementary methods that your doctor hasn’t mentioned to treat your cancer or relieve symptoms. These methods can include vitamins, herbs, and special diets, or other methods such as acupuncture or massage, to name a few.

Complementary methods refer to treatments that are used along with your regular medical care. Alternative treatments are used instead of a doctor’s medical treatment. Although some of these methods might be helpful in relieving symptoms or helping you feel better, many have not been proven to work. Some might even be dangerous.

Be sure to talk to your cancer care team about any method you are thinking about using. They can help you learn what is known (or not known) about the method, which can help you make an informed decision. See the Complementary and Alternative Medicine section to learn more.

Choosing to stop treatment or choosing no treatment at all

For some people, when treatments have been tried and are no longer controlling the cancer, it could be time to weigh the benefits and risks of continuing to try new treatments. Whether or not you continue treatment, there are still things you can do to help maintain or improve your quality of life. Learn more in If Cancer Treatments Stop Working.

Some people, especially if the cancer is advanced, might not want to be treated at all. There are many reasons you might decide not to get cancer treatment, but it’s important to talk this through with your doctors before you make this decision. Remember that even if you choose not to treat the cancer, you can still get supportive care to help with pain or other symptoms. 

Help getting through cancer treatment

Your cancer care team will be your first source of information and support, but there are other resources for help when you need it. Hospital- or clinic-based support services are an important part of your care. These might include nursing or social work services, financial aid, nutritional advice, rehab, or spiritual help.

The American Cancer Society also has programs and services – including rides to treatment, lodging, support groups, and more – to help you get through treatment. Call our National Cancer Information Center at 1-800-227-2345 and speak with one of our trained specialists on call 24 hours a day, every day.

The treatment information given here is not official policy of the American Cancer Society and is not intended as medical advice to replace the expertise and judgment of your cancer care team. It is intended to help you and your family make informed decisions, together with your doctor. Your doctor may have reasons for suggesting a treatment plan different from these general treatment options. Don't hesitate to ask him or her questions about your treatment options.

Treating Salivary Gland Cancer

This information represents the views of the doctors and nurses serving on the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Information Database Editorial Board. These views are based on their interpretation of studies published in medical journals, as well as their own professional experience.
The treatment information in this document is not official policy of the Society and is not intended as medical advice to replace the expertise and judgment of your cancer care team. It is intended to help you and your family make informed decisions, together with your doctor.
Your doctor may have reasons for suggesting a treatment plan different from these general treatment options. Don’t hesitate to ask him or her questions about your treatment options.

General treatment information

After cancer is diagnosed and staged, your cancer care team will discuss your treatment options (choices) with you. Depending on your situation, you may have different types of doctors on your treatment team:

  • An otolaryngologist (also known as an ear, nose, and throat, or ENT doctor): a surgeon who treats certain diseases of the head and neck
  • A radiation oncologist: a doctor who treats cancer with radiation therapy
  • A medical oncologist: a doctor who treats cancer with medicines such as chemotherapy

Many other specialists may be involved in your care as well, including physician assistants, nurse practitioners, nurses, nutrition specialists, speech therapists, occupational therapists, social workers, and other health professionals.

Common treatment options for salivary gland cancer include:

Sometimes more than one type of treatment is used.

Which treatment option(s) might be best for you depends on many factors, including the type, grade, and stage of the cancer; your overall health; the chances of curing the disease; the impact of the treatment on functions like speech, chewing, and swallowing; and your own personal preferences.

It’s important to discuss all of your treatment options as well as their possible side effects with your treatment team to help make the decision that best fits your needs. If there’s anything you don’t understand, ask to have it explained. (See What Should You Ask Your Doctor About Salivary Gland Cancer? for some questions to ask.)

If time permits, getting a second opinion from a doctor experienced with salivary gland cancer is often a good idea. It can give you more information and help you feel more confident about the treatment plan you choose.

The next few sections describe the types of treatments used for salivary gland cancer. This is followed by a description of the most common approaches used based on the stage of the cancer, and information on treatment options for recurrent salivary gland cancer.