Treatments for recurrent salivary gland cancer

Recurrent salivary gland cancer means that the cancer has come back after it has been treated. You may be offered the following treatments for ​recurrent salivary gland cancer. Your healthcare team will suggest treatments based on your needs and work with you to develop a treatment plan.

Radiation therapy

External radiation therapy may be offered for recurrent salivary gland cancer. It can't be used if you've already had radiation therapy in the area where the cancer has returned.

If salivary gland cancer recurs in the bones, lung, or brain, external radiation therapy is sometimes used to treat it. Find out more about bone metastases, lung metastases and brain metastases.


Surgery may be offered for recurrent salivary gland cancer if it can safely be removed without causing problems with speaking and eating or changes to your appearance. It may also sometimes be used to remove a single metastasis in the lung or brain.


Chemotherapy may be offered for recurrent salivary gland cancer if the person is healthy enough to have treatment. The type of chemotherapy drugs given will depend on what drugs you have already had for treatment.

The following single drugs may be given as a treatment for recurrent salivary gland cancer because they may cause fewer side effects than chemotherapy combinations:

  • cisplatin
  • vinorelbine
  • paclitaxel
  • mitoxantrone
  • epirubicin
  • fluorouracil
  • docetaxel (Taxotere)

Chemotherapy combinations that may be offered for recurrent 4 salivary gland cancer are:

  • cyclophosphamide (procytox), doxorubicin and cisplatin
  • cisplatin, doxorubicin and fluorouracil
  • cisplatin, epirubicin and fluorouracil
  • vinorelbine and cisplatin
  • gemcitabine and cisplatin

If you can't have or don't want cancer treatment

You may want to consider a type of care to make you feel better without treating the cancer itself. This may be because the cancer treatments don't work anymore, they're not likely to improve your condition or they may cause side effects that are hard to cope with. There may also be other reasons why you can't have or don't want cancer treatment.

Talk to your healthcare team. They can help you choose care and treatment for advanced cancer.

Clinical trials

Talk to your doctor about clinical trials open to people with salivary gland cancer in Canada. Clinical trials look at new ways to prevent, find and treat cancer. Find out more about clinical trials.

Expert review and references

  • Lagha A, Chraiet N, Ayadi M, et al . Systemic therapy in the management of metastatic or advanced salivary gland cancers. Head & Neck Oncology. OA Publishing London;
  • Mendenhall WM, Werning JW and Pfister DG . Treatment of head and neck cancer. DeVita VT Jr, Lawrence TS, & Rosenberg SA. Cancer: Principles & Practice of Oncology. 9th ed. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer Health/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2011: 72:729-80.
  • National Cancer Institute. Salivary Gland Cancer Treatment (PDQ®) Health Professional Version. 2014.
  • National Comprehensive Cancer Network. Head and neck cancers (Version 1.2014). 2014.
  • Terhaard CHJ . Salivary gland cancer. Halperin EC, Wazer DE, Perez CA et al. Perez and Brady's Principles and Practice of Radiation Oncology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2013.