Learn all about ear cancer and its symptoms. Cancer of the ear refers to the malignancy of the ear, which is an organ of hearing and maintaining equilibrium. The ear is divided into various parts namely external ear (pinna), ear canal which joins the external ear with the middle ear, middle ear and inner ear. The cancer (abnormal growth of cells) in the ear can be benign or malignant.
The cancer of the ear is an uncommon cancerous condition encountered in the general population. Although it is frequently seen in individuals of more than 60 years of age, however it can occur in any age group. It is more common in men as compared to women. The cancer of the ear may be benign as in cholesteotoma or malignant as in squamous cell carcinoma. Both these tumors are slow growing and provide ample time to be diagnosed early in the course of disease. Squamous cell carcinoma is the most common type of ear cancer documented.
The symptoms of ear cancer depend on the location of the tumor. Swelling of cervical (neck) lymph nodes can be seen in some patients. The most common symptom of cancer in the middle ear is a discharge from the ear that can be stained with blood. Other symptoms of ear cancer include earache and hearing loss.
Staging of a cancer is done depending on the size of the cancer and its extent, i.e. whether it has metastasized or spread to other part of the body. It is difficult to work out the staging system with rare cancers as there are lesser patients who have this type of cancer, which makes it difficult to develop a staging system. There are a number of different types of staging systems which are used for ear cancer.
In addition, there are glandular tumors of the ear canal which can arise from those glands which produce ear wax. In some of these cases, malignant tumors of the parotid gland (the gland in the front of the ear) can push through the skin and bone of the ear canal as malignant tumors in the ear canal cystic cancer. A biopsy will confirm the nature of the growth in the ear canal. Appropriate treatment will then be scheduled, depending on the depth and extent of the tumor. The use of CT and MRI scanning has made this evaluation process more accurate.
Ear Cancer Tumors
Tumors of the ear may be noncancerous (benign) or cancerous (malignant). Most ear tumors are found when people see them or when a doctor looks in the ear because people notice their hearing seems decreased. Ear cancer is cancer which develops in the ear, the ear canal or middle ear and inner ear. Ear cancer is a rare cancer. Most of the cancers of the ear develop in the skin of the outer ear. Around 5 of 100 skin cancers occur on the ear. It is very rare for cancer to develop inside the ear. Majority of the ear cancers are squamous cell carcinomas.
Ear Cancer Symptoms
Ear cancer symptoms are as under;
- Problems with balance
- Vertigo (feeling like the world is spinning)
- Facial numbness and tingling, which may be constant or come and go
- Facial weakness
- Taste changes
- Difficulty swallowing and hoarseness
- Clumsiness or unsteadiness
Ear Cancer Causes
The exact cause of ear cancer is not known. Individuals with history of chronic ear infections (>10 years) are at a higher risk for developing ear cancer. Chronic skin infections of the ear canal increase the risk. These tumors can also be caused when cancer spreads from another part of the body to the temporal bone (metastasis). The skin on the ear (pinna) is exposed to the sun. After years of exposure, basal cell skin cancer or squamous cell cancer can develop. Temporal bone tumors are usually caused by a tumor that begins on the skin near the ear and later spreads to the bone. Fair skinned people are more susceptible to skin cancer and, therefore, have a greater risk of developing temporal bone cancer.
Ear Cancer Stages
The T staging for the ear canal and the middle ear is
- T1, the tumour is just in the middle ear and is not causing any numbness of the face and is not in the nearby bone
- T2, the tumour has grown outside the area and is causing numbness or is affecting the bone
- T3, the tumour has grown into the nearby salivary gland (parotid gland) or the base of the skull or the joint of the jaw
Ear Cancer Treatment
The treatment of ear cancer depends on the type of cancer, the stage of the cancer as it indicates the spread of the disease, and the exact location of the cancer in the ear. The treatment modalities include surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy. The surgical resection of a tumour combined with radiotherapy is the choice of treatment. Cancer of the ear canal which has not spread may be managed by a surgical procedure called mastoidectomy. Radiotherapy is used as an adjunct to surgery, especially in cases where cancer has spread beyond the ear. Chemotherapy may be considered when an individual fails to respond to other modes of treatment. Chemotherapy uses anti cancerous (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy cancer cells.
- Basal cell cancers are mainly treated with surgery and radiation. Surgery is preferred for cases affecting the ear. Plastic surgery may be required to surgically reconstruct the cancer.
- Squamous cell cancers are also treated with surgery or sometimes with radiation. It is necessary to treat any spread of the cancer as well.
- Malignant melanomas, adenoid cystic carcinomas, and most other ear cancers are also treated surgically.
- Radiation therapy is recommended in some cases.