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Temporal Bone Tumor

Ear tumors are rare. They can be both benign and malignant.

Benign ear tumors arise out of the skin or the lining of the space behind the ear drum.

Malignant tumors can be caused by skin cancer that begins on the outer ear or in the ear canal, and then invades the bone. These types of cancers include:

  • Squamous cell carcinoma
  • Adenoid cystic carcinoma
  • Ceruminomatous adenoid cystic carcinoma

Other cancers of the ear area are caused by invasion from adjacent structures such as the parotid gland (saliva gland that sits in front of the ear canal).

Symptoms and causes

The most common sign of an ear tumor is hearing loss. It can also cause a pulsating sound in the ear that is in sync with the heartbeat.

The cause of ear tumors is largely unknown. Some tumors, such as glomus tumors, may occur from genetic abnormalities and can run in families.

Cancers of the ear commonly occur due to irritation to the skin from chronic ear drainage or infections. Another common cause is significant sun exposure to the outer ear.

Diagnosis and treatment

Ear tumor diagnosis is done by examining and biopsying the mass. Imaging, such as a CT scan, is almost always needed to confirm the diagnosis.  

The primary treatment of tumors is complete surgical removal. If the tumor is small, the surgery can be performed through the ear canal. If the tumor is larger, an incision has to be made from behind the ear to remove some of the bone and allow removal of the full extent of the tumor.

The surgery depends on the location of the tumor and the extent of involvement of the bone or the space behind the ear drum:

  • Outer one-third. If the tumor is isolated to the skin of the outer one-third of the ear (cartilaginous ear canal), then resection of a section of the ear canal (called a "sleeve resection") can be performed.
  • Inner two-thirds. If the tumor involves the inner two thirds of the ear canal (bony ear canal) then a lateral temporal bone resection is needed. This involves removing the entire ear canal, ear drum and the first two bones behind the ear drum. In addition removal of the parotid gland (saliva gland in front of the ear) and lymph nodes from the neck may be necessary. Sometimes, a portion of the jaw joint may have to be removed, as well.

Depending on the extent of the tumor, radiation may also be recommended by your physician.

To learn more, call 714-456-7017 or request an appointment online ›
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