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Head and neck cancer can rarely cause facial paralysis. The parotid gland is the biggest salivary gland and is located under the skin of the cheek. While most tumors of the parotid gland are benign, occasionally cancer can occur in the parotid gland. These cancers can either start in the parotid gland (i.e., primary parotid cancer), or they can spread from other locations such as the skin (i.e., metastatic parotid cancer). Other cancers such as skin cancer can less commonly cause facial weakness.

Rarely, cancer will damage the facial nerve resulting in partial or complete facial paralysis. This facial weakness typically is gradual onset, occurring over weeks to months. When cancer affects the facial nerve, the nerve will typically be sacrificed during the cancer surgery to remove all the cancer. Sometimes the facial nerve will have to be sacrificed during cancer surgery even when there is no facial weakness before surgery. When the facial nerve is sacrificed, patients will have facial paralysis unless facial reanimation surgery is performed. If the facial nerve is stretched and bruised during surgery but not cut, patients will sometimes have temporary facial weakness after surgery. This temporary weakness usually improves over days to weeks, but improvement can take a few months to occur.

Why Choose the UNC Facial Nerve Center for Cancer-Associated Facial Paralysis Treatment?

At the UNC Facial Nerve Center, Dr. Miller is an expert at caring for patients with cancer-associated facial paralysis. He frequently works with doctors at the UNC Head and Neck Cancer Center, one of the world’s biggest head and neck cancer centers, to coordinate cancer treatments with facial reanimation procedures. Dr. Miller offers the most cutting-edge clinic and operating room procedures to maximize facial function and symmetry in patients with active head and neck cancer, or patients who have had head and neck cancer in their past.

Dr. Miller will customize a treatment plan for you based on your prior cancer history and your goals. Call the UNC Facial Nerve Center today to schedule a consultation: 984-974-2255.

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