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The Parotid Glands

The parotid glands are the largest one of three pairs of major salivary glands that produce saliva, which helps break down food through mastication and digestion, keeps the digestive tract moist and promotes oral health.

The parotid glands are responsible for secreting 25% of the saliva carried to the mouth via the Stensen duct. They are located in front of each ear and extend down to the lower parts of the jaw.

The Parotid Glands
The Parotid Glands

Parotid Lump or Salivary Gland Tumors

Parotid lumps or tumors are abnormal growths that form within the parotid glands or tissues. There are several types and characteristics of parotid lumps, the two most common being Warthin’s tumor and pleomorphic adenomas, and both of which are benign, painless and slow-growing.

According to research, around 85% of salivary gland tumors develop in the parotid glands, most of which are benign. On the other hand, while the occurrence is less common, 25% of tumors which are cancerous actually begin in the parotid glands.

Symptoms of Gland Tumors & Parotid Cancer

Both benign and malignant forms of salivary gland tumors are characterized by a lump or swelling on the side of the face near the neck, mouth or jaw. Additional signs to watch out for include:

  • Persistent pain in the salivary gland area (ear, cheek, jaw, neck, mouth)
  • Numbness or muscle weakness on one side or part of the face
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Difficulty opening mouth widely
  • Fluid discharge from ear

Since these symptoms are also common in other salivary gland problems, the head and neck surgeon may conduct biopsies or additional imaging tests in order to obtain an accurate diagnosis.

Symptoms of Gland Tumors & Parotid Cancer

Causes of Salivary Gland Tumors

Symptoms of Gland Tumors & Parotid Cancer

Parotid cancer or salivary gland tumors are very rare, and occur when cells in the gland develop DNA abnormalities. These abnormal cells then multiply rapidly and can spread to nearby tissues and further metastasize to distant organs and areas.

Though parotid tumors are rare, certain factors may increase one’s chances of developing them. These include:

  • Age - Most cases are found to affect patients aged 50 to 60
  • Gender - Men are more likely to get parotid cancer than women
  • Prolonged radiation or chemical exposure
  • Previous case of cancer
  • Family history

Lifestyle and work environment factors are also said to increase one’s risk of developing salivary gland tumors or parotid cancer. The condition is often found to be linked with those who work in plumbing, asbestos mining and rubber manufacturing.

Parotid Lump/Cancer Complications

Most types of parotid lumps may be benign, but if left untreated, they may grow larger and may even turn cancerous. In cases where the lumps were not removed completely, they may grow back. Both occurrences are quite rare.

Similar to all types of cancer, malignant parotid lumps can quickly metastasize to other nearby tissues and organs if left untreated.

Symptoms of Gland Tumors & Parotid Cancer

Parotid Surgery in Singapore

Treatment for parotid or salivary gland cancer depends on the tumor’s size, location, type and stage, as well as the patient’s overall health.

Surgery remains the most common and effective form of treatment for parotid tumors, particularly those that are benign, slow-growing and still in their early stages. The procedure may involve removing part or all of the salivary gland in a process known as parotidectomy. If the tumor has metastasized to nearby tissues and organs such as the lymph nodes, these will also be removed.

Reconstruction surgery typically follows the actual parotid procedure. This is done to repair the facial structures and nerves that may have been moved or replaced during the surgery, as well as restore or improve the patient’s ability to breathe, speak, chew or swallow.

Singapore ENT surgeon Christopher Goh specializes in the comprehensive management of head, thyroid and neck conditions, skilled in such procedures as parotidectomy, thyroidectomy, and neck dissection, among others. Book a consultation with Dr. Goh by calling 9754-4719.

Thyroid-Head & Neck Surgeon - Prof Christopher Goh
Prof Christopher Goh

Senior Consultant Thyroid-Head & Neck Surgeon
MBBS (Singapore), FRCS (Edinburgh), FRCS (Glasgow), FAMS (ORL)

Prof Goh is a Senior Consultant ENT specialist in Singapore with over 20 years’ experience, both locally and abroad in the UK and Canada under the Health Manpower Development Programme Award and the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) Scholarship.

A respected figure in his field, Prof Goh was the Head of the ENT Department at SGH and a founding member of the Asian Society of Head & Neck Oncology. Passionate about training up future ENT doctors, he teaches at the Duke-NUS Medical School and serves as Chairman on the Residency Advisory Committee at the Ministry of Health. A recipient of numerous service awards, Prof Goh’s dedication to his patients and the advancement of his field cannot be overstated.