What is a parotidectomy?
Parotidectomy is the surgical removal of all or a portion of the parotid gland. it is most commonly performed because of a tumor within the parotid gland. Approximately 80% of these tumors are benign and will continue to grow if not removed. The most common tumor of the parotid gland, called pleomorphic adenoma, has the potential for malignant transformation and therefore is treated with surgical removal. Cancer of the parotid gland is also treated primarily with surgical removal. Depending upon the specific type of cancer, further treatments including more extensive surgery and/or radiation may be necessary.
How is parotidectomy performed?
Parotidectomy is performed under general anesthesia as an outpatient procedure in most cases.
What are the risks associated with parotidectomy?
The major concern of this procedure is in preserving the facial nerve. This nerve controls the muscles for the entire half of the face. During parotidectomy this nerve is monitored with a computer and meticulous dissection is performed to preserve it. Despite these precautions, permanent injury can occur. Most often however, weakness of the face is a temporary condition. In rare instances, the underlying disease process can irreversibly injure the nerve.
Other risks include injury to the nerve which supplies sensation to the ear lobe. Postoperative numbness is expected but usually not bothersome to most patients after the initial adjustment period. Fry's syndrome is an unusual complication resulting in facial sweating when the patient eats or smells food. This arises from abnormal reinnervation of the skin overlying the parotid area during the healing process.
Are there alternatives to surgery?
There are no non-surgical interventions for tumors of the parotid gland. In cases of high grade cancer, radiation therapy may be employed as additional treatment but not as a primary treatment. In cases of low grade cancer and benign tumors surgical excision is usually the only treatment needed.