Cancers of the Ear: What You Need to Know

Cancers of the Ear: What You Need to Know

What are ear cancers?

Cancers of the ear most commonly start as skin cancers in the ear canal or skin of the outer ear.  The most common type seen is squamous cell carcinoma, but other types of cancers include basal cell carcinoma, melanoma, adenoid cystic carcinoma, adenocarcinoma, and others.  Cancers of the ear may involve the ear canal alone, or might involve other structures of the temporal bone, such as the ear drum, ossicles (hearing bones), mastoid (bone behind the ear), facial movement nerve, and inner ear organs of hearing and balance.

What are symptoms of ear cancer?

Ear cancers can cause symptoms such as pain, bleeding or drainage from the ear, hearing loss, and facial weakness.

How is it evaluated?

Patients suspected of possible ear cancer undergo ear exams with a microscope, hearing tests, and a biopsy of any suspicious abnormal growths.  Imaging studies, such as an MRI and/or CT may also be performed.  

How is it treated?

Treatment for ear cancer depends on the size and extent of the tumor and typically involves surgical removal.  Depending on the extent of the tumor, lymph nodes in the parotid gland or neck, the ear canal skin, and/or ear drum may have to be removed.  Radiation and/or chemotherapy may also be recommended in some cases.

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