Ear cancer

What is an ear cancer?

Ear cancer can be both cancerous (malignant) and non-cancerous (benign). It is a very rare disease that affects only one or two people in a million, usually after age 55. In the early stages of these rare tumors, little to no symptoms are experienced.  

What are the types of ear cancer?

Ear cancer, also known as carcinoma, can be benign or malignant. In the case of malignant tumor, it is divided into malignant tumors of the outer ear and malignant tumors of the middle ear, depending on the location of the tumor.

Benign ear tumors

Benign tumors can develop in the ear canal, causing obstruction and subsequent hearing loss and earwax buildup. These types of tumors include: 

  • Sebaceous cysts. Small sacs filled with skin secretions. 
  • Benign bone tumors. They spread very rarely but can cause problems because they can weaken the bone. 
  • Keloids. Excessive scar tissue growths resulting from injury or perforation of the ear.

Malignant ear tumors

The most common malignant tumors of the ear are basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. In the early stages, these types of tumors can be treated effectively with surgical removal or eradiotherapy. Another form of cancer is melanoma, which spreads more rapidly and can also appear in the external ear canal. In this case, surgical removal is necessary. Then there is ceruminoma, the carcinoma of the cells that produce earwax. This type of tumor may destroy the ear canal. It is not related to earwax plugs and treatment consists of surgical removal of the tumor.

What are the symptoms of an ear tumor?

Persistent ear pain is one of the main symptoms of carcinoma as well as bleeding, itching and tingling sensations. Some of the most common symptoms of middle and inner ear cancer include: 

Outer ear

The vast majority of tumors occur in the external ear. They are epithelial in origin and account for approximately 70% of the total, with carcinomas prevailing distinctly at the level of the pinna, and squamous cell carcinomas prevailing at the level of the external auditory canal. Approximately 80% of these tumors are localized to the pinna. The remaining tumors are divided in half between the external auditory canal and the middle ear.

Inner ear

The tumors that most commonly affect the inner ear are: 

  • Basiloma or basal cell carcinoma (BCC). It is a skin tumor that originates from the malignant transformation of cells located in the deepest layer of the epidermis.
  • Spinocellular carcinoma. It is the second most common form of skin cancer and can manifest as red scaly patches, open sores, rough and thickened skin. 
  • Melanoma. This is a cancer that results from the cancerous transformation of melanocytes, some of the cells that form the skin. 
  • Adenoid cystic carcinoma. This is a type of tumor that, for the most part, begins in one of the salivary glands. They are small tumors, typically less than 5cm, that grow slowly over time.

Main causes of ear cancer

The main causes that can lead to ear cancer are numerous and can vary from patient to patient. Generally, it can be said that this neoplasm can occur if the patient concerned has been subjected, even at an early age, to a series of treatments that could damage the ear.

How are ear tumors diagnosed?

Recognizing an ear tumor is very complex because the symptoms it presents are often confused with other conditions such as, for example, an ear infection. For this reason, it is very important to monitor with a specialist the symptoms manifested. An ACT scan and an MRI are fundamental examinations to accurately diagnose this condition.  

Possible ear cancer treatments

Ear cancer can be treated with several ways depeding on the area affected by the tumor. In the case of an inner ear or middle ear tumor, the possible treatments are:

  • Surgery 
  • Chemotherapy 
  • Radiotherapy

In case of an external ear tumor, the possible treatments are:

  • Mohs micrographic surgery
  • Lymph node surgery
  • Otoplasty
  • Radiotherapy
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