The parotid gland is one of the three major salivary glands in the body. It secretes saliva near the upper teeth and helps aid in digestion, oral lubrication and hygiene, and protection against tooth decay. This gland is susceptible to benign or malignant tumors that appear as a lump in front of or below the ear. Parotid gland tumors have often spread from other areas of the body to enter the gland through the lymphatic system, and may include lymphomas, melanoma or squamous cell carcinomas.
While most of these tumors are benign, they require thorough treatment to slow growth or to remove any abnormal cells. The parotid gland is also at risk for infection or a blocked saliva gland that interrupts normal functioning.
Treatment of these serious parotid gland conditions may require surgical removal of the gland in order to reduce the risk of complications. Removal of the parotid gland, known as parotidectomy, is performed under general anesthesia and may require a short hospital stay as well. Depending on the size of the tumor, a partial or total parotidectomy may be performed.
During a parotidectomy, an incision is made in front of the ear, similar to the incision used during a facelift. It is important to identify the facial nerve during this procedure and carefully work around it in order to reduce a patient’s risk of facial paralysis. The tumor and a small margin of surrounding tissue are then removed through the incision. The incision is then stitched closed with sutures and usually heals well.
Parotidectomy may take several hours to perform, depending on the type of removal and the size and location of the patient’s individual tumor. If the tumor is benign, surgery is usually the only treatment required and provides complete removal with only a minimal risk of recurrence. Cancerous tumors will likely need to be treated with radiation therapy after surgery to ensure that all cancerous cells have been removed.
Recovery From Parotidectomy
After the parotidectomy procedure, a drainage tube will be placed at the incision site to collect blood, serum and saliva, which can be removed after two to four days. Sutures are removed after four to six days. Patients may be prescribed antibiotics to reduce the risk of infection and pain medication to alleviate any potential discomfort after surgery.
Patients will likely be restricted to a soft diet for the first few days after surgery, as chewing may irritate the muscle underneath the parotid gland. The doctor will provide patients with specific instructions to ensure proper healing after surgery.
Risks Of Parotidectomy
While a parotidectomy is considered a safe procedure, there are certain risks associated with any kind of surgery. These risks may include:
- Facial nerve damage
- Improper wound healing
- Sweating abnormalities
A doctor will discuss risks with each patient prior to surgery, as well as address any concerns they may have about the procedure.