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Ear Tumors

By Bradley W. Kesser, MD, Professor, Department of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery, University of Virginia School of Medicine

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.

Noncancerous tumors

Noncancerous tumors may develop in the ear canal, blocking it and causing hearing loss and a buildup of earwax. Such tumors include

Exostoses occur in people who swim in cold water, such as scuba divers and surfers. Surfer's ear is a common term for bony exostosis in the ear canal.

The most effective treatment for these noncancerous bony tumors is surgical removal. After treatment, hearing usually returns to normal. Small, non-obstructing osteomas or exostoses require no intervention.

Keloids can be repeatedly injected with a corticosteroid, such as triamcinolone, or surgically removed. People may be given additional corticosteroid injections or even radiation after surgical removal.

Cancerous tumors

Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are common skin cancers that can develop on the external ear after repeated and prolonged exposure to the sun. People who have chronic ear infections may have an increased risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma. When these cancers first appear, they can be successfully treated by removing them surgically or by applying radiation therapy. More advanced cancers may require surgical removal of a larger area of the external ear. Melanoma is another, more rapidly spreading form of skin cancer that can also develop in the skin of the outer ear canal and must be removed surgically.

Ceruminoma (cancer of the cells that produce earwax) develops in the outer third of the ear canal. These tumors do not spread (metastasize) to other areas but they are destructive to the ear canal. Ceruminomas have nothing to do with earwax buildup. Treatment consists of removing the tumor and surrounding tissue surgically.

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