Lipomas are the most commonly encountered benign mesenchymal tumors that are histologically similar to mature adipose tissue, but the presence of a fibrous capsule helps to differentiate them from simple fat aggregations [10
]. Onlyapproximately 25% of lipomas and their variants arise in the head and neck region [1
] and most of these occursubcutaneously in the posterior neck [2
]. Rarely, they can develop in the parotid gland with reported incidence ranges from 0.6 to 4.4% among parotid tumors, and they appear most frequently in the fifth and sixth decades of life with a definite male predominance [11
Lipomas involving the deep parotid lobe are extremely rare. Similar to lipomas in other part of body, they tend to grow insidiously and give rise to few symptoms other than the effect of a localized mass or cosmetic concerns [9
]. The same was true of this case, who had been aware of the slow-growing, painless swelling for the past fifteen years and sought medical advice only on cosmetic grounds.
As they grow, deep lobe parotid lipomas tend to extend into adjacent loose connective tissues of the neck with various shapes. They may extend posteromedially between the sternocleidomastoid and digastric muscles causing an asymptomatic soft lump on the upper lateral neck, as presented in this case. In addition, they may also extend medially into the parapharyngeal space, causing medial displacement of the lateral pharyngeal wall and/or tonsil[12
]. Facial paralysis [13
] and pain [11
] in the presence of parotid lipoma are uncommon and have been described rarely. Probably because of the slow and flexible growth pattern of the tumor, there was neither facial paralysis nor pain on presentation even though severe tenting of the facial nerve branches was observed during operation in this case.
Clinical examination alone is insufficient to identify the nature and location of deep parotid lipomas. Hence, imaging examination such as ultrasonography, CT or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be helpful in further assessment and diagnosis. Ultrasonography has been used as an initial imaging study in cases suspected to have head and neck lipomas [14
]. Compared with CT and MRI, ultrasonography is quick, easy, less costly, and with the use of high-frequency transducers, more suitable for imaging superficial structures. However, the soft tissue characterization is less specific with ultrasonography than with CT or MRI.
On CT scans, lipomas have the typical characteristics of homogeneous masses with few septations, a specific range of CT Hounsfield Unit (HU) values (usually between -50 and -150 HU), and they show no contrast enhancement [5
]. MRI can also accurately diagnose lipomas preoperatively by comparison of signal intensity on T1-and T2-weighted images [5
]. Moreover, the margin of a lipoma is clearly defined by MRI as a 'black-rim', enabling lipomas to be distinguished from surrounding adipose tissue, a distinction that cannot be made from CT images [8
In this reported case, however, the high-resolution CT scan provided enough information with respect to the preoperative planning and contributed to the diagnosis. Although MRI may prove to be a better diagnostic tool regarding tumor margin characteristics, this did not change our surgical strategy and it was not necessary to modify the operation based on the MRI differing from CT findings. In addition, the cost of MRI is nearly three times that of CT and so we believe that although MRI is highly useful, the CT scan with specific radiodensity recording is the preferred preoperative investigation.
Fine needle aspiration biopsy (FNAB) requires an experienced cytologist, but it still has a significant false negative rate in salivary gland tumors. It has also proved to be unreliable in diagnosing parotid lipomas [8
]. Furthermore, fibrosis or adhesion between the facial nerve branches and the lipoma capsule following FNAB may be encountered, and this may increase the risk of facial nerve injury during surgery. Therefore, we did not perform FNAB for preoperative cytological diagnosis of parotid lipoma in this case.
Conservative follow-up might be a valid option for patients with clinically static deep parotid lipomas, since lipomas can now be confidently recognized by CT and MRI. Surgical intervention in these tumors is challenging and may be reserved for patients with cosmetic or pressure effects. Possible postoperative morbidities, such as facial nerve dysfunction, facial scar or asymmetric contour, and Frey's syndrome must be explained to the patient before operation. During surgery, most surgeons recommend superficial parotidectomy with facial nerve dissection before removal of the deep lobe parotid lesions [6
]. Transient or temporal facial nerve dysfunction may be encountered after surgery in the case of deep lobe parotid lipoma, so full exposure of the facial nerve [9
] and also facial monitoring [8
] are advised for prevention of that morbidity.
In our surgical experience of this case, because the lipoma was mainly associated with the lower branches of the facial nerve, we exposed these branches from the main trunk by meticulously dissecting its overlaying superficial parotid lobe instead of performing a formal superficial parotidectomy. Then we reposited the raised superficial parotid lobe to its original site after tumor removal. We find the procedure with preservation of the superficial parotid lobe may have the following advantages: it helps to maintain better facial contour, and the need of resection of the redundant skin can be avoided. In addition, the incidence of postoperative Frey's syndrome is reduced.