Parotid Gland Tumor

A parotid gland tumor is a rare tumor on one of your salivary glands. Most parotid tumors are benign (noncancerous), but they can be cancerous. Both types cause a lump in front of one of your ears. Surgery treats both types and cures noncancerous parotid gland tumors. Providers may also use radiation therapy to treat cancerous tumors.


Abnormal masses or tumors that develop on your parotid gland may be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).
Parotid gland tumors are rare abnormal growths on one of your salivary glands. They’re usually benign (non-cancerous).

What is a parotid gland tumor?

A parotid gland tumor is an abnormal mass or tumor on your parotid gland. Your parotid gland is the largest of your three salivary glands and is found just in front of each of your ears. Most parotid gland tumors are noncancerous (benign), but about 20% are malignant (cancerous). A cancerous tumor on your parotid gland is the most common form of salivary gland cancer.

Both tumor types are rare. Each year, cancerous parotid gland tumors affect 1 in 100,000 people worldwide. Experts don’t know the exact number of people who have noncancerous parotid gland tumors but estimate the condition may affect 1 to 6 in 100,000 people worldwide.


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Symptoms and Causes

What are the symptoms of a parotid gland tumor?

Both types of parotid tumors cause lumps that develop in front of one of your ears. But cancerous tumors are more likely to cause pain than noncancerous tumors. Other cancerous parotid gland tumor symptoms include:

  • A sore or lesion on the lump.
  • Numbness.
  • Trismus.
  • One side of your face is larger or smaller than the other side.

Most parotid gland tumors grow very slowly. You can have one for months, years or even decades before you have symptoms. Often, healthcare providers find tumors while doing imaging tests for unrelated health issues.

What causes parotid gland tumors?

Experts aren’t sure exactly what causes these cancerous and noncancerous tumors. Research suggests some common possible causes include using tobacco or having radiation therapy for head and neck cancer.


Diagnosis and Tests

How do healthcare providers diagnose parotid gland tumors?

Providers will do a physical examination focused on your head and neck. They’ll ask when you noticed the lump and if it’s grown. They may order the following tests:

  • Blood tests: Infections may make your parotid gland swell, so your provider may check for signs of leukocytosis (high white blood cell count) to see if an infection is why your parotid gland is swollen or larger than normal.
  • Imaging tests: Providers will order imaging tests like computed tomography (CT) scans or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans.
  • Fine needle aspiration: This test can confirm that a parotid gland tumor is cancerous. Test results also identify the specific tumor subtype. There are more than 20 cancerous tumor subtypes and 11 noncancerous tumor subtypes.

Analysis also establishes the cancerous tumor’s stage and grade. The tumor stage is based on tumor location and size, and whether the tumor has spread to nearby lymph nodes or other areas of your body. The tumor grade is how cancerous cells appear when viewed under a microscope. Tumor grades run from low to high.

Providers use test results to develop treatment plans and a prognosis, which is what you can expect to happen after treatment.

Management and Treatment

What are treatments for parotid gland tumors?

Treatment typically involves surgery to remove the tumor. Surgery cures noncancerous tumors and may cure cancerous ones, as well. But cancerous parotid gland tumors can come back (recur).

Parotidectomy, which is surgery to remove part or all of your parotid gland, is the most common treatment for cancerous and noncancerous tumors. People with cancerous tumors also receive radiation therapy after surgery.



Can parotid gland tumors be prevented?

You may not be able to prevent these tumors. Avoiding known risk factors like using tobacco may lower your risk.

Outlook / Prognosis

What can I expect if I have a parotid gland tumor?

That depends on whether you have a cancerous or noncancerous tumor. Surgery typically cures noncancerous parotid tumors. It may cure cancerous tumors that healthcare providers detect and treat before they can spread. But these cancerous tumors can come back (recur) years after treatment.

If you had treatment for a cancerous parotid gland tumor, your healthcare provider will schedule regular checkups, including imaging tests, for up to 20 years after treatment. Your checkup schedule may look like the following:

Post-treatment timeline
Year 1
Checkup schedule
Every one to three months.
Year 2
Checkup schedule
Every two to six months.
Year 3 to 5
Checkup schedule
Every four to eight months.
Year 5 and beyond
Checkup schedule
Every 12 months.

What are the survival rates for people with cancerous parotid gland tumors?

Survival rates are estimates of the percentage of people with this condition who were alive five years after diagnosis. Rates vary widely depending on factors like:

  • Tumor subtype: There are more than 20 tumor subtypes.
  • Tumor stage: The higher the tumor stage, the lower the survival rate.
  • Tumor grade: People with low-grade tumors are more likely to survive longer than people with high-grade tumors.

Mucoepidermoid carcinoma (MEC) is the most common subtype of cancerous parotid gland tumor. The survival rate ranges from 86% for low-grade tumors to 22% for high-grade tumors.

Here are some things to keep in mind when you think about survival rates for cancerous parotid gland tumors:

  • Survival rates vary depending on the tumor subtype, stage and grade.
  • Five-year survival rates are estimates based on other people’s experiences.
  • Survival rates are updated every five years and may be different now.

If you’re receiving treatment for a cancerous parotid gland tumor, ask your healthcare provider what you can expect.

Living With

How do I take care of myself?

Cancerous parotid gland tumors can come back. Here are some suggestions for taking care of yourself after treatment:

  • Attend your follow-up appointments: Tests to look for recurring parotid gland cancer may detect cancerous tumors before they spread.
  • Avoid tobacco: Experts suspect tobacco use increases your risk of developing parotid gland cancer. If you want to stop using tobacco, ask your healthcare provider about programs to help you do that.
  • Consider cancer survivorship: Cancerous parotid gland tumors can come back. Knowing that could make you feel anxious. Cancer survivorship programs may help.

When should I see my healthcare provider?

You’ll have frequent follow-up appointments if you had treatment for a cancerous parotid gland tumor. But you should contact your healthcare provider if you notice changes like a new lump developing in front of one of your ears.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Parotid gland tumors are rare. They’re usually benign (noncancerous) but can be cancerous. The most common symptom is a lump that develops in front of one of your ears. If you notice swelling or a lump in that area, talk to a healthcare provider. They’ll do tests to find out what’s affecting your parotid gland and recommend treatments.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 03/11/2024.

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