NYU Langone doctors may use radiation therapy to destroy any remaining cancer cells after surgery for salivary gland cancer.
Radiation therapy, in which high-energy beams are used to destroy cancer cells, is especially useful if doctors could not remove a complete margin of healthy tissue around the tumor or if a tumor wasn’t fully removed in order to prevent facial nerve damage. This treatment may also be used if the tumor was rapidly growing, or aggressive.
Chemotherapy, in which drugs are used to destroy cancer cells throughout the body, may be given at the same time as radiation therapy. This approach is called chemoradiation. Chemotherapy also helps make cancer cells more sensitive to radiation therapy, potentially making this treatment more effective.
Radiation Therapy Planning
NYU Langone radiation oncologists use CT scans along with computer software to design personalized radiation treatment plans.
The software creates three-dimensional images of the area where the salivary gland tumor was surgically removed—also called the tumor bed—in addition to nearby structures, such as the facial nerve and remaining salivary glands. These images help doctors deliver highly targeted radiation doses to the tumor bed while avoiding healthy tissue.
Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy
Doctors at NYU Langone typically use intensity modulated radiation therapy to manage salivary gland cancer. With this therapy, the radiation beams come from many directions and are divided into small, computer-controlled doses of differing strengths.
Tailored to the size, shape, and location of the tumor bed, these “minibeams” allow doctors to deliver high doses of radiation to the cancer site while avoiding nearby healthy structures. Treatment is delivered in fractions—typically once daily, five days a week, for six weeks.
Managing the Side Effects of Radiation Therapy
Side effects of radiation therapy for salivary gland cancer may include dry mouth, changes in taste, sore throat, difficulty swallowing, fatigue, and nausea. The treatment may also cause temporary or long-term tightening of the muscles in your face, jaw, and neck.
To ease discomfort, doctors can prescribe medication or refer you to integrative health services. They may also recommend rehabilitation for temporary or ongoing speech and swallowing problems and any muscle tightness you may be experiencing.
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