Ear tumors can form on the outer ear (skin cancer), inner ear (acoustic neuroma) or middle ear (glomus tympanicum). Most ear tumors are benign (not cancerous), but they may cause hearing loss. Treatments include surgery, radiosurgery, radiation therapy and Mohs surgery.
An ear tumor is a mass or lump of abnormal cells that forms in the ear. Most ear tumors are benign or not cancerous. But some ear tumors are malignant (cancerous).
Ear tumors can form in any part of the ear, including the inner ear, middle ear and outer ear. They may affect your hearing.
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Both cysts and tumors can cause a bump or lump in the ear.
Noncancerous ear tumors can block your ear canal, leading to earwax buildup. Types of benign ear tumors include:
Cancer can form inside or on the outside of your ear. Ear cancer is rare.
Most cancer that affects the ear is skin cancer. Skin cancer may first appear on the outer ear. Skin cancers that affect the ear include:
Cancers that directly affect the middle or inner ear are even more uncommon. They include:
Tumors occur when your body makes new cells faster than usual. Sometimes, old, damaged cells don’t die off the way they should. Clumps of old and new cells group together, forming a tumor.
Cancerous tumors occur when the cells grow uncontrollably. Untreated, these malignant cells may spread to other locations in your body (metastatic cancer).
People of all ages, including children, can get ear tumors. Factors that increase the chances of developing an ear tumor include:
Symptoms of an ear tumor vary depending on the tumor type and the part of the ear it affects. You may be able to feel a bump on the outer part of the ear.
Signs of an ear tumor include:
Your healthcare provider may notice a cyst or tumor during a routine ear exam. Your provider may refer you to an audiologist (hearing specialist) for a hearing test. You will likely also see an ear, nose and throat doctor (an ENT or otolaryngologist) who specializes in ear disorders.
Your provider may perform a biopsy. This procedure removes the tumor or cells from the tumor. A pathologist (a doctor who studies diseases) examines the samples in a lab to make a diagnosis.
Some noncancerous ear tumors don’t need treatment unless the tumor affects hearing or balance. Your provider monitors the tumor to keep an eye on its growth and any symptoms.
Healthcare providers often use radiosurgery (gamma knife surgery) to remove benign ear tumors like acoustic neuromas. This procedure directs high doses of radiation directly to the tumor. It’s not a surgical procedure.
Dermatologists (doctors who specialize in skin diseases) treat skin cancer on the outer ear. Treatment for cancerous ear tumors depends on the cancer type and location. Treatment might include:
Ear tumors, even ones that aren’t cancer, can cause hearing loss. Ear tumor treatments may also lead to hearing loss, balance problems and facial weakness.
Most people with ear tumors recover well after treatment. Some don’t need treatment at all. Skin cancer can come back (recur) and spread to other parts of your body. You’ll need regular skin exams to keep an eye out for returning cancer.
You should call your healthcare provider if you experience:
You may want to ask your healthcare provider:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Most ear tumors are benign (not cancer) and don’t need treatment. If a benign ear tumor affects hearing or balance, you may need radiosurgery to get rid of it. Most cancerous ear tumors are actually skin cancers. These cancers require treatment. You should contact your healthcare provider if you notice changes in your hearing, feel a lump in or on your ear, or notice skin changes to the ear.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 09/07/2021.
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