Parotidectomy is surgery to remove all or part of a major salivary gland in your cheek called your parotid gland. You may need this surgery if a tumor forms in your parotid gland. Most tumors are benign (noncancerous), but they can be cancerous (malignant). Removing your parotid gland can prevent the tumor from damaging tissue or harming important nearby structures like your facial nerve.
Parotidectomy (pronounced “puh-rawt-ih-DEK-tuh-mee”) is surgery to remove all or part of your parotid gland. Your parotid glands are major salivary glands. They’re located in your cheeks, in front of and below your ears. Tumors can form in your parotid glands. When this happens, your healthcare provider may perform a parotidectomy to remove the affected parts of the gland.
An important nerve called the facial nerve runs through each parotid gland, dividing it into two lobes: the superficial lobe and the deep lobe. There are two types of parotidectomy, depending on which lobe contains the tumor:
You may need a parotidectomy if a tumor has formed in your parotid gland. Usually, these tumors are benign (noncancerous), but malignant (cancerous) tumors may also develop. Both types typically need removed.
You may also need a parotidectomy if you have an infection in your parotid glands or if you have salivary gland stones. Salivary gland stones are calcium deposits that can build up in your parotid glands, blocking the flow of saliva (spit) in your mouth. This can cause recurrent gland swelling and infection.
Is a parotidectomy a major surgery?
Yes. A parotidectomy is a major surgery that lasts from three to four hours on average. You’ll likely need to stay in the hospital overnight.
Parotidectomy requires the expertise of a skilled surgeon who can identify and spare your facial nerve, which runs through your parotid gland. Your facial nerve controls the muscles that control the movement of your face. It allows you to smile, frown, wrinkle your forehead and express other emotions. Depending on your tumor’s location, it can be challenging to work around this nerve.
Removing your parotid gland while preserving your facial nerve’s functioning requires expertise and care during surgery.
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Surgeons, called otolaryngologists, who specialize in head and neck conditions perform parotidectomies.
Your healthcare provider will gather the necessary medical information to plan your surgery. They’ll also ensure you understand what’s involved during a parotidectomy so you can prepare for your recovery.
To prepare, your provider may:
Finally, you’ll receive instructions about preparing for your parotidectomy, including what medicines you should take or stop taking, when you should stop eating or drinking before surgery, etc. You may also receive guidance on stopping smoking. Smoking increases your risk of breathing problems during surgery and can also slow your healing afterward.
Your healthcare provider will supply you with the necessary resources to prepare for a parotidectomy. Still, the best way to prepare is to ensure you get answers to all of your questions beforehand.
Ask your provider about how much recovery time you should allow yourself. Depending on your situation, you may need help from a friend or family member lasting longer than 24 hours.
You’ll have surgery in a hospital or a surgery center. You’ll need to stay overnight (usually one to two nights) for a parotidectomy. During the procedure:
Your provider may insert a small tube called a drain to catch any blood or fluid that may collect at the surgery site.
Once you’re fully conscious, your provider will test your facial nerve function. You may be asked to smile, close your eyes or make other facial movements that demonstrate your facial nerve is working correctly.
You’ll receive instructions on caring for your wound and drain before being released from the hospital. The timing for follow-up care varies from person to person, but in general, expect the following timeline:
A parotidectomy can treat cancerous tumors and prevent cancer from spreading. It can also prevent benign tumors from becoming malignant or growing so large that they damage your facial nerve or other tissue.
Parotidectomy is major surgery, but it’s also a standard, reliable treatment for eliminating tumors that can damage essential nerves and tissue in your head and neck.
Parotidectomy isn’t considered a high-risk procedure. When complications do occur, they may include:
Other risks that apply to most surgeries, including parotidectomy, include:
Scarring following a parotidectomy is usually minimal. Cuts are made to match the creases in your neck so they’re hard to see when scars form.
The following symptoms are typical during recovery:
Your recovery time depends on how complicated your surgery was. Recovery typically takes a few weeks. Most people will go back to normal activities after a month. Numbness and facial weakness may take a few months to a year to recover.
Ask your healthcare provider how your tumor and surgery will impact your recovery timeline.
Yes. A parotid gland is a major salivary gland, but it’s not the only gland that secretes saliva. Even if your healthcare provider removes an entire parotid gland, you’ll still have your other parotid gland to secrete saliva. You’ll have your other major salivary glands, including your submandibular and sublingual salivary glands. There are also minor salivary glands throughout your mouth and throat.
Don’t wait for a follow-up visit if you’re noticing signs of an infection or other symptoms that indicate you’re not healing as you should.
Contact your provider if:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
A parotidectomy is surgery to remove all or part of your parotid gland. Talk to your healthcare provider about how surgery on your parotid gland will affect everyday activities, like eating and drinking, during recovery. Most people have to make adjustments to their daily routines after surgery. You may have to choose foods that are easy to chew and swallow. You may have to be less active. Depending on your surgery, you may have to get used to feeling less sensation in your face. Usually, these changes are temporary. Ask your provider what changes you should expect and how you can plan for them before getting a parotidectomy.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 08/24/2022.
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