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Healthy Balance

Understanding an Ear Canal Tumor and Its Effects

patient getting an ear exam
Inner ear cancer and its treatment can cause dizziness, but your doctor can help you cope. Learn more about how to deal with an ear canal tumor.

Occasionally people develop tumors in or on the ear. It’s rare, but an ear canal tumor may be cancerous. Cancer can be found on the outer part of the ear or in the inner ear. Dizziness, or vertigo, is a difficult side effect of the tumor itself and treatment. To help you notice the symptoms, it’s good to understand more about ear cancer and how to cope with the side effects.

Outer Ear Cancer

The outer ear includes the parts of ear you can see, including the earflap, the ear canal and the eardrum. These parts help collect sound. Your ear is surrounded by the temporal bone, which protects these parts.

Most cancers on the outer ear start as skin cancers. Cancer Research UK estimates that about five in every one hundred skin cancers start on the ear. These tumors may be squamous cell (the most common), basal cell or melanoma. Squamous cell cancer on the ear looks like a scaly, pink lump. The spot may bleed easily or ooze like an ulcer. If you notice a sore on the outer ear that doesn’t heal within four weeks, have it checked by your doctor.

Middle and Inner Ear Cancer

Cancer inside the ear is extremely rare. The structures of the inner ear are responsible for balance and house the nerves that control movements of your face and tongue. An inner ear tumor can cause clear or bloody discharge from your ear. You may also have hearing loss, ringing in the ears, difficulty moving your face on the affected side, pain and dizziness.

Squamous cell cancer is also the most common type of inner ear cancer, according to Cancer Research UK.

Treatment for Ear Cancer

Surgery to remove the cancer from the ear is the most common treatment. You may have radiation after surgery as well. How much of the ear is removed depends on the type, size and location of the ear canal tumor. After surgery for inner ear cancer, you may have partial or total hearing loss and struggle with balance.

Coping with the Effects of Ear Cancer

Vertigo, or dizziness, is one of the more challenging side effects of ear cancer and treatment. With the changes in your inner ear from treatment or the tumor pressing on delicate structures, you may not be able to cure the vertigo, but you can talk to your doctor about treatment options.

U.S. National Library of Medicine describes treatments and lifestyle changes to handle vertigo:

  • Take medications to treat nausea and vomiting that sometimes go along with dizziness.
  • See a physical therapist for exercises to improve balance and movement changes to overcome vertigo.
  • Avoid sudden changes in your position.
  • Stop and lie down when you have an episode of vertigo, and slowly resume activity.
  • Prevent falls at home: install grab bars in the shower, use rug pads to keep rugs from slipping and remove any tripping hazards.

The best way to stop cancer is proper prevention. Get a skin cancer screening to keep up on your health.

Be sure to talk with your doctor if you notice any symptoms of ear cancer. Survival rates are high for this cancer, especially when it’s found early. Your care team will work closely with you to develop a treatment plan and help you handle side effects from the cancer.

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