Skin cancer on the ear is common. The skin on your outer ear is susceptible to cancer because it’s often exposed to the sun’s damaging UV rays. Symptoms include changes to your skin, like discoloration. Most cases of ear skin cancer are easily treated, but it can spread to other parts of your body if untreated. Treatment includes surgery.
Skin cancer on the ear is when abnormal skin cells grow uncontrollably on your ear. It usually begins on the outer part of your ear.
If left untreated, skin cancer on your ear can spread to other parts of your body (metastatic cancer).
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A change in the appearance of your outer ear’s skin is the most common sign of skin cancer, including:
Use the ABCDE guideline to look for changes on the skin of your ear:
The most common cause of skin cancer on the ear is overexposure to UV light from the sun. The sun’s UV rays can damage the DNA in your skin, creating abnormal, cancerous (malignant) cells. As the damaged cells rapidly grow and divide, they form a mass of cancer cells.
Contact with some chemicals, like tar and coal, can also cause skin cancer on your ear.
Your head and face (including your ears) get more sun exposure than other parts of your body. Ultraviolet (UV) rays damage your skin cells. And when you get sunburn or blisters, your risk of developing skin cancer increases even more.
Risk factors for developing skin cancer on your ear include:
Family and medical history:
To diagnose skin cancer on your ear, a healthcare provider will do:
The goal of treatment for skin cancer on the ear is to destroy the cancer cells while preserving as many healthy cells as possible. Your cancer team will tailor a treatment plan for you, depending on the cancer stage — Stage 0 to Stage IV. The higher the stage, the more the cancer has spread.
For low-stage skin cancer on the ear, a biopsy may be able to remove all of it. Other methods to remove skin cancer include:
Other treatment options for skin cancer on the ear include:
Yes. If undiagnosed and untreated, any skin cancer on your ear can grow and spread. Once in your blood or lymph (fluid that drains into your bloodstream), cancer cells can travel to other organs, including your brain.
Yes. When ear skin cancer is diagnosed early, while it’s in a lower stage, treatment is often successful. Once the cancer has spread, the success of the treatment depends on where (and how much) it has spread.
The best ways to prevent skin cancer on your ears include:
When caught early, the outlook for ear skin cancer is good. Treatment can cure most skin cancers if they’re detected before they spread.
Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer. If you have melanoma on your ear, the five-year survival rates are:
It’s a good idea to see a dermatologist once every year for a full skin review. If you’re worried about the skin on your ear, make an appointment with your healthcare provider or dermatologist, especially if you see:
Coping with a cancer diagnosis is challenging. Talk to your doctor about any questions or concerns you have. Consider asking your provider:
The three main types of skin cancer that can grow on your ear are:
Squamous cell carcinoma is the most common cancer diagnosed on the outer ear. While melanoma is less common, it’s considered the deadliest form of skin cancer because it’s more likely to spread to organs beyond your skin. This makes it more difficult to treat and cure.
Between 6 and 10 out of 100 skin cancers are ear cancers. That’s 6% to 10% of all skin cancers. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer diagnosed in the U.S. It affects 20% of Americans at some point in their life.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Ears are easily exposed to harmful UV rays from the sun, increasing your risk of skin cancer. Do regular skin checks and see your healthcare provider if you notice anything unusual about the skin on your ears. When in doubt, get it checked out. The earlier ear skin cancer is diagnosed, the better the outcome.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 02/01/2023.
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