Signs and Symptoms of Skin Cancer of the Ears

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, more than 4 million Americans are diagnosed with the most common form of skin cancer each year, basal cell carcinoma. Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common form of skin cancer.

Though we don’t treat skin cancer at Associated Audiologists, because we are constantly examining patients’ ears for hearing loss, we discover and refer for many potential skin cancers.

That’s because most skin cancers develop on skin exposed to the sun, and many people just haven’t been careful about protecting their ears from sun damage over the years.

Often, skin cancers don’t cause bothersome symptoms until they have grown quite large. Then they may itch, bleed, or even hurt. But typically they can be seen or felt long before they reach this point.

Basal cell skin cancers may appear as:

  • Flat, firm, pale or yellow areas, similar to a scar
  • Raised reddish patches that might be itchy
  • Small, pink or red, translucent, shiny, pearly bumps, which might have blue, brown, or black areas
  • Pink growths with raised edges and a lower area in their center, which might contain abnormal blood vessels spreading out like the spokes of a wheel
  • Open sores (which may have oozing or crusted areas) that don’t heal, or that heal and then come back

Basal cell cancers are often fragile and might bleed after shaving or after a minor injury. Sometimes people go to the doctor because they have a sore or a cut from shaving that just won’t heal, which turns out to be a basal cell cancer. A simple rule of thumb is that most shaving cuts heal within a week or so.

Squamous cell skin cancers also appear on the sun-exposed areas of the body. Symptoms include:

  • Rough or scaly red patches, which might crust or bleed
  • Raised growths or lumps, sometimes with a lower area in the center
  • Open sores (which may have oozing or crusted areas) that don’t heal, or that heal and then come back
  • Wart-like growths
  • Both basal and squamous cell skin cancers can also develop as a flat area showing only slight changes from normal skin.

If we see an area on your ears that we think looks suspicious, we’ll recommend you see your primary care provider or a dermatologist to have the spot checked out.

According to the American Cancer Society, factors that may increase your risk of skin cancer include:

  • Fair skin
  • A history of sunburns
  • Excessive sun exposure
  • Living in sunny or high-altitude climates
  • Precancerous skin lesions
  • A family history of skin cancer
  • A personal history of skin cancer
  • A weakened immune system
  • Exposure to radiation
  • Exposure to certain substances, such as arsenic

Prevention

Most skin cancers are preventable. To protect yourself, follow these skin cancer prevention tips:

  • Avoid the sun during the middle of the day. For many people in North America, the sun’s rays are strongest between about 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Schedule outdoor activities for other times of the day, even in winter or when it’s cloudy.
  • Wear sunscreen year-round. Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, even on cloudy days. Apply sunscreen generously, and reapply every two hours — or more often if you’re swimming or perspiring. Use a generous amount of sunscreen on all exposed skin, including your lips, the entire pinna/external ear, especially the tips of your ears, and the backs of your hands and neck.
  • Wear protective clothing. Sunscreens don’t provide complete protection from UV rays. So cover your skin with dark, tightly woven clothing that covers your arms and legs, and a broad-brimmed hat, which provides more protection than a baseball cap or visor does.
  • Don’t forget sunglasses. Look for those that block both types of UV radiation — UVA and UVB rays.
  • Avoid tanning beds. Lights used in tanning beds emit UV rays and can increase your risk of skin cancer.
  • Be aware of sun-sensitizing medications. Some common prescription and over-the-counter drugs, including antibiotics, can make your skin more sensitive to sunlight.
  • Ask your doctor or pharmacist about the side effects of any medications you take. If they increase your sensitivity to sunlight, take extra precautions to stay out of the sun in order to protect your skin.
  • Check your skin regularly and report changes to your doctor. Examine your skin often for new skin growths or changes in existing moles, freckles, bumps and birthmarks.
  • With the help of mirrors, check your face, neck, ears and scalp. If this is difficult, have someone else look.

Remember, if we find something we think is suspicious during your hearing evaluation, we’ll recommend you schedule an appointment with a dermatologist or your primary care provider to get it checked out. Though basal and squamous cell cancers aren’t usually life-threatening, they should be taken seriously.

Schedule an appointment with a doctoral-level audiologist.