Follow-up after treatment for salivary gland cancer

Follow-up after treatment is an important part of cancer care. Follow-up for salivary gland cancer is often shared among the cancer specialists (head and neck surgeon and radiation oncologist) and your family doctor. Your healthcare team will work with you to decide on follow-up care to meet your needs.

Don't wait until your next scheduled appointment to report any new symptoms and symptoms that don't go away. Tell your healthcare team if you have:

  • a new lump or swelling in the neck, mouth or jaw
  • new pain or pain that gets worse
  • problems swallowing or opening your mouth
  • a new weakness in or you can't move (paralysis) part of your face

The chance that salivary gland cancer will come back (recur) is greatest within 2 years, so you will need close follow-up during this time. Some types of salivary gland cancer can recur many years after treatment, so you may need long-term follow-up.

Schedule for follow-up visits

Follow-up visits for salivary gland cancer are usually scheduled:

  • every 3 months for the 1st year after initial treatment
  • every 4 months for the 2nd year
  • every 6 months until the 5th year
  • once each year after 5 years

During follow-up visits

During a follow-up visit, your healthcare team will usually ask questions about the side effects of treatment and how you're coping.

Your doctor may do a physical exam, including:

  • checking your face and surgical site
  • feeling the lymph nodes in your neck
  • looking at your teeth and mouth

Tests are often part of follow-up care. Your doctor may order the following tests:

  • imaging tests such as CT, MRI or PET-CT scans to check if the cancer has come back or spread
  • dental exams to check for cavities
  • a chest x-ray to check if the cancer has spread to the lungs
  • blood chemistry tests to check if the cancer has spread to the bones

If the cancer has come back, you and your healthcare team will discuss a plan for your treatment and care.

Questions to ask about follow-up

To make the decisions that are right for you, ask your healthcare team questions about follow–up.

Expert review and references

  • National Cancer Institute. Salivary Gland Cancer Treatment (Adult) (PDQ®) Health Professional Version. 2018.
  • National Comprehensive Cancer Network. NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology: Head and Neck Cancers Version 2.2018. 2018.
  • Macmillan Cancer Support. Salivary gland cancer. 2017.