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 may develop in the ear canal, blocking it and causing hearing loss and a buildup of earwax. Such tumors include small sacs filled with skin secretions (sebaceous cysts), osteomas and exostoses (noncancerous bone tumors), and growths of excess scar tissue after an injury or ear piercing (keloids). The most effective treatment is surgical removal of the tumor. After treatment, hearing usually returns to normal.
Basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas (see see Overview of Skin Cancer) 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.
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 cancer and the surrounding tissue surgically.
Last full review/revision February 2013 by Bradley W. Kesser, MD