Skin Cancer on Ear

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.


What is skin cancer on the ear?

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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Symptoms and Causes

What are the signs of skin cancer on the ear?

A change in the appearance of your outer ear’s skin is the most common sign of skin cancer, including:

  • Change to a sore or mole.
  • Area of discolored skin.
  • Itching or bleeding spot.
  • Pink lump with a hard, scaly surface.
  • Shiny bump or nodule.
  • Sore that doesn’t go away within four weeks.
  • Yellow or white scar-like area.

Use the ABCDE guideline to look for changes on the skin of your ear:

  • Asymmetry: Irregular shape.
  • Border: Hard-to-distinguish, irregular edges.
  • Color: Multiple colors on a mole.
  • Diameter: Bigger than a pencil eraser (six millimeters).
  • Evolution: Getting larger, changing shape, color or size.

What causes skin cancer on the 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.


What are the risk factors for skin cancer on the 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:

Physical characteristics:

  • Have blond or red hair, fair or freckled skin or light-colored eyes.
  • Have many moles or irregularly shaped moles.
  • Sunburn easily and/or have a history of sunburns.

Family and medical history:

  • Family history of skin cancer.
  • Had an organ transplant.
  • Had exposure to UV light therapy as treatment for eczema or psoriasis.
  • Have actinic keratosis (precancerous skin growths that are rough, scaly and dark pink-to-brown).
  • Take medicine that weakens your immune system.


  • Are outdoors in the sun often.
  • Live in a sunny or high-altitude climate.
  • Tan outdoors or use tanning beds.

Diagnosis and Tests

How is skin cancer on the ear diagnosed?

To diagnose skin cancer on your ear, a healthcare provider will do:

  • Physical exam: The provider first looks at your outer ear for signs of skin cancer and asks you about any changes to the skin of your outer ear.
  • Biopsy: If the provider suspects cancer, they’ll do a biopsy, removing a small amount of tissue from the abnormal area. They send the tissue sample to a laboratory where a pathologist examines it under a microscope.
  • Imaging:If the biopsy finds that the tissue sample is cancerous, the provider may recommend an MRI or CT scan to see if the cancer has spread. Imaging helps the provider stage the cancer and develop a treatment plan.


Management and Treatment

What treatments are available for skin cancer on the ear?

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:

  • Excisional surgery: Your surgeon uses a scalpel or razor to remove skin cancer and some surrounding healthy tissue, which ensures all the cancer cells are removed.
  • Curettage and electrodesiccation: This procedure uses an instrument that has a sharp, looped edge. Your surgeon scrapes the instrument across the cancerous area to remove it. Then, they use an electric needle to get rid of any remaining cancer cells.
  • Mohs surgery: During Mohs surgery, your surgeon first removes visible, raised cancerous areas and examines them under a microscope. Then they remove any remaining layers of skin cancer cells, one layer at a time. The surgeon stops when they don’t see any more cancer cells.

Besides surgery, what are other options for removal of skin cancer on the ear?

Other treatment options for skin cancer on the ear include:

Can skin cancer on your ear spread to your brain?

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.

Is there a cure for skin cancer on the ear?

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.


How can I prevent getting skin cancer on my ears?

The best ways to prevent skin cancer on your ears include:

  • Sunscreen: Wearing broad-spectrum sunscreen helps block UV light exposure, but many people forget to apply sunscreen to their outer ear. Apply sunscreen liberally to your ears, just as you would to your face and body. Always use sunscreen when outdoors, even if it’s cloudy.
  • Avoid UV rays: Stay in the shade whenever possible and avoid tanning or using tanning beds.
  • Check yourself: The skin on your ear is a challenging place to look at with your own eyes. Do regular skin checks by using the camera on your phone or asking a loved one to look at your outer ears.

Outlook / Prognosis

What is the outlook for skin cancer on the ear?

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:

  • 99% if it’s detected before it spreads to your lymph nodes.
  • 66% if it has spread to nearby lymph nodes.
  • 27% if it has spread to distant lymph nodes and other organs.

Living With

When should I see my healthcare provider for skin cancer on my ear?

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:

  • Changes to your skin or the size, shape or color of existing moles or other skin lesions.
  • A new growth on your skin.
  • A wound that hasn’t gone away.
  • Unusual spots on your skin.
  • Areas that itch or bleed.

What questions should I ask my provider?

Coping with a cancer diagnosis is challenging. Talk to your doctor about any questions or concerns you have. Consider asking your provider:

  • What type of skin cancer do I have on my ear?
  • What stage is the skin cancer?
  • Do I need additional tests?
  • How do you plan to treat the skin cancer on my ear?
  • What are the side effects of that treatment?
  • How will I feel throughout treatment?
  • What’s the prognosis for the skin cancer on my ear?
  • Do I have an increased risk of additional skin cancers?
  • How often should I have follow-up checkups?

Additional Common Questions

What are the different types of skin cancer on the ear?

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.

How common is skin cancer on the ear?

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.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 02/01/2023.

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