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

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

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

Targeted therapy

Targeted therapy may be offered for recurrent salivary gland cancer if the cancer cells have certain genetic changes that are identified using cell and tissue studies.

Neurotrophic tyrosine receptor kinase (NTRK) therapy may be offered if the salivary gland cancer cells have a mutation in the NTRK gene. Cancer cells that have changes to this gene are called TRK fusion-positive.

Recurrent salivary gland cancer that is TRK fusion-positive may be treated with:

  • larotrectinib (Vitrakvi)
  • entrectinib (Rozlytrek)

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

  • American Cancer Society. Treatment of recurrent salivary gland cancer. 2017.
  • Deschler DG, Emerick KS, Wirth LJ, Busse PM . Management of salivary gland tumors: general principles and management. Harrison LB, Sessions RB, Kies MS (eds.). Head and Neck Cancer: A Multidisciplinary Approach. 4th ed. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2014: 25(A): 697-724.
  • National Cancer Institute. Salivary Gland Cancer Treatment (Adult) (PDQ®) Health Professional Version. 2018.
  • National Cancer Institute. Salivary Gland Cancer Treatment (Adult) (PDQ®) Health Professional Version. 2018.
  • Locati LD, Guzzo M, Orlandi E, Licitra L . Management of salivary gland cancer. Bernier J (ed.). Head and Neck Cancer: Multimodality Management. Springer; 2016: 36:625-640.
  • National Cancer Institute. Salivary Gland Cancer Treatment (Adult) (PDQ®) Patient Version. 2018.
  • National Comprehensive Cancer Network. NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology: Head and Neck Cancers Version 2.2018. 2018.
  • Bebb DG, Banerji S, Blais N, et al. Canadian consensus for biomarker testing and treatment of TRK fusion cancer in adults. Current Oncology. 2021: 28(1):523–548. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7903287/.
  • Bayer Inc. Product Monograph: Vitrakvi. https://pdf.hres.ca/dpd_pm/00060963.PDF.