Ear cancer is caused by the disordered multiplication of cells in the area, which causes ear tumors. These tumors can occur on the outer side of the ear or inside the ear canal (the tube connecting the outer side of the ear to the tympanum) and can be cancerous or non-cancerous.
It is a rare cancer that affects 0.006% of people worldwide. The incidence of cases occurring inside the ear canal is the same between men and women, but those on the outer side are twice as frequent in women. Although it can appear in any age group, there is a predominance among older adults.
Its causes are not completely defined, but people with a history of chronic ear infections have a higher risk of developing cancer of the earwax-producing cells. Chronic means repeated for ten years or more.
Ear cancer is characterized by a skin cancer in the ear or within the ear canal that is related to exposure to the sun without protection against its ultraviolet rays. People with whiter skin have a higher risk of developing this type of ear cancer.
Types of ear cancer
There are two types of ear cancer:
- Cancer of the earwax-producing cells – they arise in the outer third of the ear canal;
- Skin cancer on the outer ear or within the ear canal.
Types of skin cancers that can affect the ears are:
- Basal/basocellular cells carcinoma;
- Squamous cell carcinoma;
Symptoms and signs of ear cancer
In many cases, the first sign of an ear tumor is partial hearing loss.
Skin cancer in the outer ear usually presents the same symptoms as skin cancer in other areas of the body: a sore spot, a dot or a spot with an abnormal or irregular coloration and shape.
Skin cancer inside the ear canal and cancer of the earwax-producing cells, on the other hand, may present as symptoms:
- Inability to move the face on the affected side;
- Swelling of the lymph nodes in the neck;
- Lump in the ear canal;
- Sensitivity to light and dizziness caused by it;
- Feeling of weakness in the face
The tumor can be detected by an otolaryngologist in a routine ear examination.
If this is not the case, but the patient has noticed some of the symptoms and has gone to the doctor because of them, a CBC should be required to check the general health.
The only way to confirm ear cancer is to take a sample of abnormal tissue from the area and analyze it in a biopsy. Imaging tests, such as MRI and CT scans, can be performed to help pinpoint the exact location and extent of the ear tumor. They are also necessary in cases of ear cancer in deeper areas of the ear canal, where it is more difficult to take a tissue sample for biopsy.
Treatment usually begins with surgery to remove the tumor followed by radiation therapy (to destroy any cancer cells that may have remained).
The surgical procedure may require removal of the canal, skin, part of the bone, and/or the tympanum. The ear can be reconstructed and hearing is not always affected.
Using sunscreens against ultraviolet UVA and UVB rays can help prevent cases of ear cancer caused by skin cancer. For other types of ear cancer, there are no reported methods of prevention.