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Cancer of the ear: Treatment, symptoms, advice and help

About cancer of the ear

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.

Cancer of the Ear: Incidence, age and sex

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.

Signs and symptoms of cancer of the ear: Diagnosis

The cancer of the ear may be benign as in cholesteotoma or malignant as in squamous cell carcinoma. Both these tumours 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 clinical features include, skin crust progressing into an ulcer or a small growth which is generally painless if present in the external ear. Some degree of hearing loss or dizziness may be experienced. Malignancy in the middle ear may be painful and also exhibit blood stained ear discharge occasionally. Some individuals may also complain of ringing sensation in the ear. The squamous cell carcinoma may spread from one part of the ear to another and also to adjacent lymph nodes. Imaging diagnostics like CT scans or MRIs may help in establishing the diagnosis. Biopsy of a specimen of cancer tissue followed by its microscopic examination confirms the diagnosis, if in doubt.

Causes and prevention of cancer of the ear

The exact cause of cancer of the ear is not clear. Exposure to certain industrial chemicals and oils has shown an increase in incidence of ear cancers.

Cancer of the ear: Complications

The cancer of the ear, specifically squamous cell carcinoma is malignant and may spread to adjacent lymph nodes from where it may be extend to other organs via lymph flow. The cancer may also invade the structures in the neck and result in potentially fatal complications in extremely rare instances.

Cancer of the ear: Treatment

The treatment of cancer of the ear depends on its location and grade of extent. The treatment modalities include surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy. The surgical resection of tumour combined with radiotherapy is the choice of treatment. The cancer of ear canal which has not spread may be managed by a surgical procedure called mastoidectomy. However extensive cancer which has spread to the neck may need radical neck dissection in which the tumour growth along with other structures in neck is removed. 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.