Cancer of the ear refers to malignancy of the ear or abnormal growth of cells in the ear; it can be benign or malignant. Cancer of the ear is a rare cancer – it usually begin as skin cancer on the outer ear, ear canal or skin around the outer ear. Cancers can develop in the inner ear but these cancers are very rare. Most ear cancers are known as squamous cell carcinoma, basal cell skin carcinoma and malignant melanoma. If they’re neglected they may grow in the ear canal, middle ear, temporal bone and facial nerve.
Causes and Risk Factors
The skin on the outer ear is exposed to the sun. Too much exposure can cause basal cell skin cancer or squamous cell cancer. Tumour that begins on the skin near the ear can cause temporal bone cancer. Fair skinned people are more susceptible to skin cancer and therefore have a greater risk of developing temporal bone cancer. These tumours can also be caused by metastasis or tumour that spread from other parts of the body.
People with a history of chronic ear infections have a higher risk of developing cancer of the ear. Exposure to certain industrial chemicals and oils have shown an increase in incidence of ear cancer.
Cancer of the Ear Symptoms
Ringing sensation in the ear
Discharge from the ear canal, often tinged with blood
Sometimes facial paralysis on the side of the affected ear
Preventing hearing loss
Repeated exposure to loud sounds over time increases the extent of hearing loss. By monitoring what you listen to and for how long, the risks of acquiring a hearing loss can be significantly reduced.
Some tumours removed by surgery may cause damage to the auditory nerve and hearing is lost. However, an Auditory Brainstem Implant (ABI) has been developed to restore some hearing to people in this situation. An ABI is a small device surgically implanted and connected to the brain stem of recipients who have substantial auditory nerve damage. The implant enables hearing impaired people to have a basic sensation of hearing.
Ear and temporal bone cancers are diagnosed by a biopsy of the tumour. Imaging tests, such as CT (computed tomography) or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans, are necessary to determine the extent of the cancer and which treatment you need. They also reveal if it has spread to the parotid gland or lymph nodes in the neck. Occasionally people have scans before biopsy. The diagnosis should be made when the cancer is in its early stage and treatment should be started immediately to prevent the tumour from spreading.
Cancer of the ear: Complications
Squamous cell carcinoma is malignant and may spread to adjacent lymph nodes from where it may be extended to other organs via lymph flow. The cancer may also metastasize to the structures in the neck and result in potentially fatal complications in extremely rare instances.
The typical treatments for cancers that start in the ear canal or middle ear are surgery and radiotherapy. Depending on the stage of the cancer you may also have chemotherapy. The type of surgery depends on the location, the size of the tumour, the grade of extent and the patient’s general health. The goal is to remove the tumour completely.
Radiotherapy uses high energy waves to treat cancer. It is used as an adjunct to surgery, especially in cases where cancer has spread beyond the ear. It can be used as the main treatment or if the surgeon hasn’t been able to remove the tissue around the tumour completely. Radiotherapy can lower the risk of the cancer coming back.
Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer (cytoxic) drugs to destroy cancer cells and relieve symptoms. It may be considered when an individual fails to respond to other modes of treatment. To treat cancer of the ear researchers have been looking into giving chemotherapy with radiotherapy before or after surgery.