Cancer symptoms: The unsettling sign in your ear that could signal the disease

Cancer is an umbrella term for a large number of diseases characterised by the development of abnormal cells that divide uncontrollably and have the ability to infiltrate and destroy normal body tissue. Signs and symptoms caused by cancer will vary depending on what part of the body is affected. There are a number of commonly reported symptoms, however, such as fatigue and changes in bowel habits.

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Cancer can also lead to a number of body changes that you may not readily associate with the disease.

One lesser-known sign of cancer is discharge from the ear.

According to Cancer Research UK, experiencing this unsettling symptom may signify cancer of the ear canal, the passage running from the outer ear to the middle ear. It is also called the meatus.

Other symptoms of ear canal cancer include:

  • Pain
  • Loss of hearing
  • A lump in the ear canal
  • Weakness in your face

As Cancer Research UK explains, cancer of the ear is a rare cancer.

Most of these cancers start in the skin of the outer ear, such as the ear canal.

Between five and 10 out of 100 skin cancers develop on the ear, says the Cancer Research UK.

What causes ear cancer?

The cause of ear cancer is largely unknown, although people with a history of chronic ear infections have a higher risk of developing cancer in the middle ear, explains the UK charity.

How is the disease diagnosed?

The only way to confirm a diagnosis of cancer is to take a small amount of tissue (biopsy) from the abnormal area of the ear, explains Cancer Research UK.

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A specialist doctor (pathologist) then examines this under a microscope, the health body says.

“Before your doctor takes the biopsy, you usually have a local anaesthetic to numb the area so you don’t have any pain,” it adds.

How is ear canal cancer treated?

The main treatments for cancer that starts in the ear canal, middle and inner ear are surgery and radiotherapy.

As is the case with most cancers, the treatment you have depends on:

  • Where in the ear the cancer is
  • The type of cancer
  • The size of the tumour
  • Whether it has spread outside the area it started in (the cancer stage)
  • Your general health

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General tips to reduce your risk of cancer

According to Macmillan UK, everyone has a certain risk of developing cancer – a combination of genes, lifestyle and environment can affect this risk.

“Having one or more risk factors does not mean you will get cancer. Also, having no risk factors does not mean you will not develop cancer,” explains the charity.

For most people, increasing age is the biggest risk factor for developing cancer, with people over the age of 65 having the greatest risk, says the health site.

While you cannot influence the ageing process, it is thought that around one in three cases of the most common cancers could be prevented by eating a healthy diet, keeping to a healthy weight and being more active.

In addition to reducing the risk of cancer, a healthy lifestyle can reduce your risk of heart disease, a major killer both in the UK and worldwide.

What constitutes a healthy diet?

According to the NHS, a low-fat, high-fibre diet is recommended, which should include plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables (five portions a day) and whole grains.

How much exercise a week should you do to reap the health benefits?

“Adults should do at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, such as cycling or fast walking, every week,” recommends the NHS.

You should also do strengthening activities that work all the major muscles (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms) on at least two days a week, it adds.

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