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Glossary of Terms


  • Accessory Parotid Tissue

    Accessory parotid tissue is normal salivary tissue that did not get included inside the parotid gland capsule during prenatal development. It is located at the front edge of the parotid gland above the parotid duct. It drains into the parotid duct.

  • Acinic Cell Carcinoma

    A low-grade malignant tumor that rarely spreads outside of the parotid gland but can have a delayed recurrence rate locally, regionally, or distantly.

  • Adenocarcinoma, NOS

    A malignant tumor that starts in the salivary gland that can be low grade or very aggressive, but there is not enough information about the tumor to further classify it as a specific type of cancer. 

  • Adenoid Cystic Carcinoma

    A malignant tumor that has a tendency to use the nerves as highways to grow along and tends to grow and spread beyond the parotid gland via the blood stream. 

  • Adenoma

    A benign tumor that arises from the glandular cells in the salivary gland, and other organs.

  • Alloderm

    A sterile tissue made from human tissue that is used for many reconstruction procedures, including a parotidectomy.


  • Basal Cell Adenoma

    A rare, benign tumor that is a variant of the monomorphic adenoma. It is most often located in the parotid gland but can be located in the other minor salivary glands in the mouth. 

  • Bell’s Palsy

    The sudden onset of facial paralysis usually due to a viral lesion on the facial nerve.

  • Benign

    A term used to describe something as noncancerous.

  • Biopsy

    The removal and examination of a small amount of tissue to determine a precise diagnosis.

  • Buccal Branch

    A branch of the facial nerve that controls movement to the cheek, and the area above the mouth.


  • Carcinoma

    A malignant new growth of cells that have a tendency to invade surrounding tissues and potentially metastasize.

  • Carcinoma Ex Pleomorphic Adenoma

    A cancer that occurs when a once benign parotid tumor, pleomorphic adenoma, undergoes a cellular change and transforms into a malignant tumor.

  • Cervical Branch

    A branch of the facial nerve that is primarily responsible for frowning and moving the superficial neck muscles.

  • Clear Margin

    A situation where no cancer cells are detected on the outer edges of the tissue that was removed during surgery

  • Clear Cell Carcinoma

    An old term for a low-grade malignant tumor that is now often referred to as an epithelial-myoepithelial tumor.

  • Completely Excised

    The complete removal of the tumor during surgery.

  • Computerized Tomography (CT) Scan

    A diagnostic test that provides good anatomic detail of the parotid gland. It also gives excellent definition of bone and can determine if there is a mass in the parotid gland, how large it is, and whether it is cystic or solid. It provides information related to invasion of surrounding structures, tumor extent, and possible lymph node involvement.

  • CT Scan with Contrast

    A CT scan that involves a patient being given an iodine-based solution to help highlight the blood vessels and surrounding structures during the scan.

  • Cyst

    An abnormal growth in the body that generally consists of tissue filled with fluid or a semi-solid material.


  • Deep Lobe

    The portion of the parotid gland that lies beneath the facial nerve.

  • Dermal Fat Graft

    A reconstruction technique used during a parotidectomy that transfers a portion of the deep skin and fat cells from one part of the body and uses that tissue to help fill in the area where all or part of the parotid gland was removed.

  • Digastric Muscle

    A small muscle located under the jaw that is important in the surgical identification of many important structures.

  • Distal Parotid Gland

    The part of the gland that is toward the parotid duct and the mouth.


  • Enucleation

    The removal of just the tumor without removing any of the surrounding parotid gland tissue. 

  • Epithelial Cells

    Cells that form a thin layer of tissue that covers the inner and outer surfaces of many organs, and cavities in our body. 

  • Epithelial-Myoepithelial Carcinoma

    A rare malignant tumor that most commonly occurs in the parotid gland but can occur in the other salivary glands.

  • Extracapsular Dissection

    The removal of the tumor, and a minimal amount of tissue surrounding the tumor. This surgical technique may be done with or without removal of the gland depending on the relationship of the tumor to the facial nerve.


  • Facial Nerve

    The facial nerve is comprised of many branches that control the movement to the face. The two main branches of the facial nerve are the upper division and lower division. The upper division controls movement to the forehead, eyelids, and upper lip. The lower division controls movement to the lower lip, chin, and superficial neck muscles.

  • Fine Needle Aspiration (FNA)

    A diagnostic test that uses a small needle to remove cells from the tumor, so that the pathologist can examine the cells under a microscope and make a diagnosis.

  • First Bite Syndrome

    A potential side effect of a parotidectomy that causes sudden onset of pain in the parotid gland or jaw area when a patient takes a first bite of food. It typically occurs when patients have tumors removed from the lower part of the parotid gland.  

  • Fixed Mass

    A tumor that cannot be moved because it is stuck to surrounding structures.

  • Frey’s Syndrome

    A potential side effect of a parotidectomy that generally does not occur until many months after surgery and is caused by small parasympathetic nerve branches regenerating and looking for a salivary gland but finding the sweat glands. The primary symptoms are sweating, flushing on the cheek or temple, or near the ear, especially when eating certain foods.

  • Frozen Section Pathology

    A tissue freezing process that is used at some medical facilities to allow pathologists to quickly analyze and diagnose tissue samples while the patient is still in the operating room.


  • Glandular Elements

    A term used to describe elements that secrete fluids.

  • Grade of Cancer

    An assessment of how abnormal the cells look under the microscope. Generally, a low- grade tumor does not act aggressively and is considered low risk. A high-grade tumor looks very abnormal and generally behaves more aggressively and can be high risk.

  • Great Auricular Nerve

    The nerve that supplies the feeling sensation to the ear, the skin over the parotid gland, and the area surrounding the ear.


  • Hematoma

    A collection of blood, or a blood clot under the skin near the surgical site, which may require immediate medical attention depending on its size and location. 

  • House-Brackmann 1-6

    A grading system that is used to identify the degree of facial nerve paralysis with “1” meaning normal function, and a “6” meaning complete facial paralysis.


  • Immunotherapy

    A type of cancer treatment designed to help the body use its own natural defenses; i.e. immune system, to fight cancer.

  • Inferior Parotid Mass

    A mass in the lower portion of the parotid gland.

  • Inferior Parotidectomy

    The surgical removal of just the lower parotid gland.

  • Infiltration

    A growth of tumor cells into adjacent structures that is not considered normal.

  • In Situ

    A term that means confined to the most superficial layer of the skin or mucosa.

  • Intraparotid Lymph Node

    The lymph nodes that are contained within the parotid gland.

  • Intra-parenchymal Lymph Node

    The lymph nodes contained in the functional tissue of an organ.

  • Invasion

    The process of a malignant tumor growing into surrounding tissue.


  • Lesion

    An abnormal area of tissue that can be benign or malignant.

  • Lipoma

    A benign tumor comprised of fat cells that can occur in the parotid gland.

  • Lumpectomy

    The surgical removal of just the mass, tumor, or cancer.

  • Lymph Node

    The small structures that are part of the body’s immune system and responsible for filtering substances, such as viruses and bacteria, to prevent those substances from causing disease or illness. 

  • Lymphadenopathy

    A disease that affects the lymph nodes, which causes them to become enlarged or swollen.

  • Lymphocytes

    The white blood cells in the lymphatic system that help the body fight infection.

  • Lymphoepithelial Lesion

    A swelling of the parotid gland that is sometimes, but not always, associated with Sjogren's syndrome or other autoimmune disorders.

  • Lymphoma

    Lymphoma is a cancer that begins in the lymphocytes (cells that help the body fight infection). Lymphoma can show up in the parotid gland and is generally a type of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.


  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

    A diagnostic test that provides good images of soft tissue structures, such as nerves, muscle, fat, gland, skin, and brain. The MRI is very useful when the tumor has spread outside of the parotid gland, when extra-parotid structures are involved, or when it is traveling along nerves.

  • Malignant

    A term used to describe something as being cancerous.

  • Marginal Mandibular

    A branch of the facial nerve that controls movement to the lower lip and chin.

  • Mass

    A lump or abnormal growth of cells that can be benign or malignant.

  • Mastoid Bone/Process

    The portion of the skull bone that is situated behind the ear.

  • Masseteric Fascia

    A strong layer of connective tissue that covers the part of the facial muscle that is responsible for assisting with chewing food.

  • Melanoma

    Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that develops in the cells that gives the skin its color. Melanoma can spread to other areas of the body, including the parotid lymph nodes.

  • Merkel Cell Carcinoma

    A rare, rapidly growing, and aggressive form of skin cancer that begins in the cells in the outermost layer of the skin. It often appears on the face, head or neck, and it can spread quickly to other parts of the body, including the parotid gland.

  • Mesenchymal Elements

    A term used to describe embryonic connective tissue.

  • Metastatic

    The spread of cancer from one area of the body to another.

  • Mobile

    The ability to move or be moved.

  • Monomorphic Adenoma

    A benign salivary gland tumor that is primarily found in the parotid gland but is occasionally found in the upper lip. It is characterized by only glandular elements (elements that secrete fluids) not mesenchymal elements (embryonic connective tissue).

  • Mucoepidermoid Carcinoma

    The most common primary malignant tumor of the parotid gland. It can be low, intermediate, or high grade.

  • Muscle Overlap/Flap Technique

    A reconstruction technique that uses muscle near the surgical area to fill in or cover the area where parotid gland was removed.

  • Myalgia

    A condition that can develop after surgery due to scar tissue formation or stretching and disruption of the fascia that coves some of the muscles in the parotid region. It can cause an aching feeling in the parotid area, ear, or throat. This can feel worse with chewing, eating, swallowing, yawning, or turning the neck. 

  • Myoepithelial Carcinoma

    The malignant version of a myoepithelioma that has a tendency to grow and spread into the surrounding tissues, small blood vessels, or lymph nodes. It also has a tendency to spread from its original tumor location to distant organs and lymph nodes. 

  • Myoepithelioma

    A rare benign salivary gland tumor that is most commonly found in the parotid gland. It is characterized by a tumor originating from the myoepithelial cell.


  • Neck Dissection

    The surgical removal of lymph nodes and surrounding tissues from the neck as part of cancer treatment.

  • Necrosis

    The death of cells in an organ or tissue due to injury, illness, or lack of blood supply.

  • Neoplasm

    A new or abnormal growth of cells that can be benign or malignant.

  • Nerve Graft

    A surgical technique where a portion of a damaged or missing nerve is replaced with a nerve from another area of the body.

  • Neuroma

    A benign growth that forms at the end of the greater auricular nerve when it is cut during parotid surgery. The growth can feel very tender. This localized discomfort persists forever but only if the growth is touched.


  • Oncocytic carcinoma

    An extremely rare malignant tumor that is found in the parotid or submandibular gland. It is characterized by the malignant change of benign oncocytic cells.

  • Oncocytoma

    A benign tumor that is characterized by the growth of oncocytic cells, which can be multiple, and can be present in both parotid glands.

  • Osteonecrosis

    The death of bone tissue due to lack of blood supply, generally after radiation.


  • Paralysis

    The loss of the ability to move a part of the body due to illness or injury of the responsible nerve.

  • Parapharyngeal Space

    An area that is situated from the skull base to the side of the pharynx behind the tonsil. This space contains part of the deep parotid gland, the carotid artery, the jugular vein, cranial nerves, and other structures.

  • Paresis

    A term that describes partial or incomplete paralysis.

  • Paresthesia

    An abnormal sensation, such as burning, tingling, numbness, or prickly feeling that is usually associated with injury or irritation of a sensory nerve.

  • Parotid Defect

    A term that refers to the area where tissue is missing due to the partial or total removal of the parotid gland.

  • Parotid Duct

    The duct that carries saliva from the parotid glands to the mouth.

  • Parotid Gland

    The largest salivary gland located on each side of the face in front of the ear.

  • Parotidectomy

    The surgical removal of all or part of the parotid gland.

  • Parotitis

    A condition that causes inflammation of the parotid gland.

  • Partial Parotidectomy

    A surgical technique that removes a portion of the gland surrounding the tumor.

  • Periglandular Lymph Node

    A lymph node that lies outside but adjacent to the salivary gland.

  • PET Scan

    This scan is good for determining metastasis with malignant tumors. It determines whether the tumor has spread to lymph nodes, or other areas of the body. There are certain benign tumors that can also be seen easily by PET scan, if they are metabolically very active, such as a Warthin tumor or Oncocytoma.

  • Pleomorphic Adenoma

    A benign, slow-growing tumor comprised of mixed cells (glandular and mesenchymal) that has the potential to turn malignant over time, if left untreated.  It is the most common type of parotid tumor.

  • Polymorphous Low-Grade Adenocarcinoma

    A rare tumor that is generally found in the minor salivary glands and is commonly found in the palate of the mouth.

  • Positive Margin

    A circumstance where cancer cells are found on the edge of the tissue that was removed during surgery, which suggests that not all of the cancer was removed.

  • Posterior Branch

    The back side of the nerve branch.

  • Posterior Fascia

    The back side of the connective tissue that covers the superficial lobe of the parotid gland.

  • Proton Beam Radiation

    A type of radiation therapy that uses high energy protons to control the field of radiation better, which preserves more healthy tissue and decreases the potential side effects.


  • Radiation

    The use of ionizing radiation to kill cells as part of cancer treatment, or the treatment of recurrent benign parotid tumors.

  • Radiotherapy

    This is another term that is used to describe radiation therapy.

  • Ranula

    A cyst that forms under the tongue that is caused by an obstruction of the salivary duct, or the sublingual gland.

  • Reconstruction

    A procedure performed during a parotidectomy that uses fat, tissue, or muscle to fill in the dent or defect that is caused by the removal of all or part of the parotid gland.

  • Recurrence

    A term that means the tumor or cancer has returned.


  • Salivary Duct Carcinoma

    A high-grade and aggressive malignant tumor that is typically found in the parotid gland. This tumor has many characteristics that are similar to a common type of breast cancer (ductal carcinoma). It can arise on its own or can be a component of a carcinoma ex pleomorphic adenoma.

  • Salivary Fistula

    A collection of saliva in the gland after surgery or trauma that is caused by saliva leaking into the soft tissues rather than following the normal pathways into the mouth.

  • Sarcoma

    A general term for a type of cancer that develops in bones or connective tissues.

  • Schwannoma

    A type of nerve tumor that can occur anywhere in the body, including the facial nerve. This tumor type is usually benign (non-cancerous) and slow growing.

  • Sebaceous Adenoma

    A rare and benign tumor that most commonly occurs in the parotid gland but can also develop in the other minor salivary glands.

  • Sequela

    A consequence or side effect of treatment.

  • Seroma

    A collection of clear fluid under the skin near the surgical site that may require medical attention or drainage.

  • Sialadenitis

    An infection of the salivary glands that is usually caused by a virus or bacteria, or other inflammatory process. The parotid and submandibular glands are most commonly affected.

  • Sialocele

    A potential complication of a parotidectomy that involves saliva collecting under the skin, which is caused by saliva leaking from the residual parotid tissue. The saliva production can cause visible swelling and pain with eating due to the pressure of the saliva on adjacent structures. The pain is generally present throughout the meal. It can take several weeks or months for this condition to resolve.  


  • Sialolithiasis

    The medical term for salivary gland stones.

  • Sjogren's Syndrome

    An autoimmune disease that attacks the glands that make tears and saliva. The primary symptoms are a dry mouth and dry eyes.

  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma

    A rare, rapidly growing, and aggressive form of skin cancer that develops in the cells in the middle and outer layer of the skin. It must be recognized and treated early if it is found in or spreads to the parotid lymph nodes.

  • Stage of Cancer

    A scale that is used to describe the size of the cancer, and how far it has spread throughout the body.

  • Sternocleidomastoid Muscle

    One of the largest and most superficial cervical muscles that runs from the base of the skull to the clavicle on both sides of the neck. It is responsible for assisting in the rotation of the head from side to side, and the ability to bend your head forward and backward.

  • Stenosis

    A condition that results in the abnormal narrowing of a duct vessel or tissue that can cause obstructions or blockages. Parotid duct stenosis can prevent saliva from flowing normally into your mouth.

  • Stensen’s Duct

    Another term used to describe the parotid duct.

  • Styloid Process

    A slender, pointed piece of bone located just below the ear.

  • Sublingual Gland

    The smallest of the major salivary glands, which is located on the floor of the mouth underneath the tongue, and is responsible for producing thick saliva.

  • Submandibular Gland

    The second largest major salivary gland that is located under the jaw and produces thicker mucus saliva.

  • Superficial Lobe

    The portion of the parotid gland that lies above the facial nerve.

  • Superficial Parotidectomy

    The surgical removal of all of the parotid gland that lies above the facial nerve (superficial lobe).


  • Tail of Parotid Gland

    A term used to describe the lowest portion of the superficial lobe, which covers the angle of the mandible (lower jaw bone) and upper neck.

  • Temporal Branch

    A branch of the facial nerve that controls movement to the forehead and eyebrows.

  • Total Parotidectomy

    The surgical removal of the entire parotid gland.

  • Tragus

    The small projection ear cartilage that is situated in front of the outer ear.

  • Trismus

    This is a condition, which is also referred to as lockjaw, and causes a limited range of motion in the jaw due to a tumor, muscle spasms, or infection.

  • Tumor

    An abnormal mass of tissue that can be benign or malignant.


  • Ultrasound

    A diagnostic test that is used for determining the presence of a mass, and the size of the mass. It often assists in performing a fine needle biopsy.


  • Warthin’s Tumor

    The second most common benign type of salivary gland tumor that is usually cystic with surrounding lymphocytes and oncocytic cells. 

  • Well-Circumscribed Mass

    A well-defined mass that is usually round or oval shaped.

  • Wharton’s Duct

    This is another term used to describe the duct of the submandibular gland, which is responsible for transferring saliva between the submandibular and the mouth.


  • Zygomatic Branch

    A branch of the facial nerve that controls the muscles that close the eye.


1. Dorland, W. A. N. 1. (2012). Dorland's illustrated medical dictionary. 32nd ed. Philadelphia: Elsevier/Saunders.

2. The content in this section was drafted in consultation with Eric J. Moore, M.D., and Kerry D. Olsen, M.D., of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN.