Parotid gland tumors develop in the parotid gland, which is the largest of the salivary glands. While many of these tumors are benign, most salivary gland cancers begin in the parotid gland.

Each year in the United States there are 2,000–2,500 cases of salivary gland cancer. This makes up about 6%–8% of all head and neck cancer diagnoses. The most common location for these cases of salivary gland cancer to begin is in the parotid gland.

The parotid glands are the largest of the salivary glands. When a tumor forms in these glands, you may experience a lump in your cheek, jaw, or mouth that doesn’t go away and numbness or pain in your face. A doctor may suggest surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation to treat these tumors.

This article will focus on parotid gland tumors, how many tumors are benign versus malignant, and possible treatment options.

Parotid gland tumors are abnormal cell growths that develop in the parotid glands.

The parotid glands are the largest salivary glands and are located just in front of your ears. They are the most common location for salivary gland cancer to begin.

Although parotid gland tumors can affect people of any age, they’re most likely to occur in older individuals. The average age of salivary gland cancer diagnosis is 55 years.

Symptoms of a parotid gland tumor can include:

  • a lump or swelling in your cheek, mouth, or jaw
  • trouble opening your mouth widely and/or swallowing
  • fluid draining out of your ear
  • facial numbness or loss of facial movement
  • pins and needle or burning sensations in your face

There are many types of parotid gland tumors, because there are many different types of cells in the parotid gland. These include:

  • gland cells
  • duct cells
  • connective tissue cells

Some examples of parotid gland malignancies include:

  • mucoepidermoid carcinoma
  • carcinoma ex-pleomorphic adenoma
  • salivary duct carcinoma
  • primary squamous cell carcinoma
  • acinic cell carcinoma

Tumors in the parotid gland can be benign or malignant. Approximately 20% of parotid tumors are malignant. This percentage is even higher for children.

While a majority of these tumors are benign, knowing the symptoms and getting treatment as early as possible remains important.

The cause of many salivary gland tumors is unknown. It’s possible that a variety of genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors are at work.

You may be more likely to have a parotid gland tumor if you’ve been exposed to certain types of radiation at work or undergone radiation therapy on your head and neck. Radiation is also associated with malignancy, while there’s no link for benign tumors.

You’re also at a greater chance of a parotid gland tumor if you’re older.

Treatment options for parotid gland tumors include:

Your doctor will consider a variety of factors when determining the best treatment or combination of treatments for you. These include:

  • the size and location of you tumor(s)
  • whether or not cancer has spread to other portions of your body
  • your general health and age
  • how your body responds to various treatments

Treatment may depend on whether the parotid gland tumor is diagnosed as benign or malignant. Your doctor may recommend observation if the tumor is benign, whereas more specific treatment like surgery may be needed for a malignant tumor.

The majority of salivary gland tumors are benign and won’t spread to other areas of the body.

Malignant tumors are more likely to develop in the parotid gland when a person is 60 or older.

The average 5-year survival rate for malignant salivary gland tumors is approximately 70%. But, when salivary gland cancer is diagnosed at stage 1, the 5 year survival rate is 91%. When the cancer isn’t diagnosed until stages 3 or 4, the 5-year survival rate is between 39% and 65%.

It’s important to remember that every individual’s experience will be unique.

The parotid gland is the largest of the salivary glands. It’s the most common location for salivary gland cancer to develop. When tumors form in the parotid gland, you may experience a lump in your cheek, jaw, or mouth and pain or numbness in your face.

It’s important to let a doctor know if you suspect that you have a parotid or salivary gland tumor. If diagnostic tests confirm a tumor, prompt treatment with surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation can result in better health outcomes.

A majority of parotid gland tumors are benign rather than malignant. Whether a tumor is benign or malignant may be a key factor in what treatment options a doctor recommends.