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What is Ear Cancer?

Ear canal tumors are most often found in the external ear canal and the outer ear. In rare cases, tumors can occur in the inner or middle ear. Prompt diagnosis and treatment is critical for the cat’s survival.

Two primary forms of cancer that affect the ears of cats are squamous cell carcinoma and ear canal tumors. Squamous cell carcinoma most commonly presents as a red, crusty areas around the ears. The sores, or ulcers, may occur intermittently and are usually flat, irregularly shaped and scaly. If the sores are noticed early enough and proper treatment is administered the prognosis is generally good. Unfortunately, the carcinoma is likely to reoccur after removal and may metastasize to other areas of the body. 

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Ear Cancer Average Cost

From 539 quotes ranging from $3,000 - $8,000

Average Cost

$6,000

Symptoms of Ear Cancer in Cats

The primary symptom of squamous cell carcinoma is the presence of bleeding ulcers on the ears. In advanced stages, the tips of the ears may disappear, leaving a noticeable deformity.

Ear canal tumors usually cause symptoms on one side of the head only. Owners should look or the presence of one or more of the following:

  • Ear discharge (may be waxy, pus-filled, or bloody) 
  • Foul odor
  • Head shaking
  • Ear scratching
  • Swelling
  • Draining abscess below affected ear
  • Deafness

When tumors are located in the inner ear, affected cats may present additional symptoms including:

  • Loss of balance
  • Difficulty blinking
  • Other neurological problems or coordination 
  • Head tilt
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Causes of Ear Cancer in Cats

Squamous cell carcinoma is most often caused by ultraviolet (UV) damage from excess sun exposure. It is most common in white cats with white ears. In rare cases, the condition can develop following severe burn damage. It is possible for squamous cell carcinoma to affect dark-colored cats or develop on areas that are covered by hair. This is the result of a disorder called Bowen’s disease that may be associated with the presence of a virus.

Tumors in the ear canal have not been definitively connected to a specific cause. Ongoing ear canal inflammation may cause the growth of abnormal cells that can develop into tumors. Cats with a history of ear infections tend to be more prone to this condition. Middle-aged or older cats are more likely to be affected than younger cats, and the tumors are more likely to be malignant than benign.

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Diagnosis of Ear Cancer in Cats

The first step will be a full review of the cat’s medical history. Owners should make the vet aware of any sores that the cat has had in the recent past, even of other factors are thought to be to blame. The vet will perform a thorough physical exam to look for other sores on the body and will likely order common lab tests like a complete blood count (CBC), biochemistry profile, urinalysis, and electrolyte panel. Enlarged lymph nodes or a high white blood cell count may indicate the presence of an infection. Chest and skull x-rays may be performed to check for tumors or other abnormalities. A biopsy can be performed to determine whether the tumor is a carcinoma, benign mass, or other skin condition. This is often done as a last resort as it typically requires general anesthesia.

If an inner-ear tumor is suspected, the vet may sedate the cat and complete a deep otoscopic examination. Other diagnostic methods may include CT scan, MRI, and biopsy. 

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Treatment of Ear Cancer in Cats

Treatment recommendations will depend on the type of cancer, the size of the ulcers or tumor, and whether it has spread.

Treatment of Squamous Cell Carcinoma 

If only one small ulcer is present, the vet may freeze and remove it using cryosurgery. If the ulcer is large or multiple sores are present, traditional surgery will be required. The external area of the cat’s ear, called the pinna, is usually removed. In some cases, a portion of the ear canal may be removed as well. Cats are usually able to adapt to the change and heal fairly well following surgery. Chemotherapy is less effective than surgery, but may be recommended in cases where surgical removal is not an option. The vet may recommend a consultation with a veterinary cancer specialist for further treatment recommendations.

Treatment of Ear Canal Tumors 

When ear canal tumors are present, surgical removal is required. This is best performed by a board-certified surgical specialist, especially when the inner-ear is involved. The most common surgery is known as a total ear canal ablation (TECA). It involves the removal of the entire ear canal and a thorough cleaning of the inner ear. When surgery fails to remove the entire tumor, radiation may be used to slow tumor growth and minimize pain.

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Recovery of Ear Cancer in Cats

Cats with squamous cell carcinoma should be kept indoors and out of the sun as much as possible. If the cat must be outside in the daytime, sunscreen should be applied to the ears and nose. For cats that enjoy sitting in windowsills, the addition of a reflector or shade will help to block UV rays. Owners should watch closely for the outbreak of new sores and follow up with a veterinarian if reoccurrence is suspected. If the treatment was administered quickly enough and the cancer has not spread, prognosis for cats with squamous cell carcinoma is generally positive.

Cats with ear canal tumors usually survive for about a year following aggressive surgery. If more conservative treatment options are elected, prognosis worsens significantly. Throughout the remainder of the cat’s life, regular veterinary check-ups will be necessary.

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Ear Cancer Average Cost

From 539 quotes ranging from $3,000 - $8,000

Average Cost

$6,000

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Ear Cancer Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

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I don’t know

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Seven Years

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Unknown severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Sore Ear

Hi, My cat had sarcoma cell cancer on his ear. His ear was removed and we were told the cancer should not come back. It has been 7 months since it’s been removed but now this has happened to his ear the last two weeks or so. Do you think this could be the cancer again? As it was at the top of his ear his whole ear was removed hence when the vet said it shouldn’t spread. Thank you

Sept. 24, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. I apologize for the delay, this venue is not set up for urgent emails. With his history, I would certainly be concerned that the cancer has grown back, sadly. It may also be a simple infection, and If they are still having problems, It would be best to have your pet seen by a veterinarian, as they can examine them, see what might be going on, and get any testing or treatment taken care of that might be needed.

Oct. 23, 2020

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Pepsi

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tabby

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12 Years

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Serious severity

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6 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Middle Ear Tumor,
Middle Ear Tumor, Ear Infections

Cat diagnosed with middle ear tumor. She is maybe 12-ish years old. I read somewhere that average cat lifespan is 14-16 years old. And, read somewhere else that middle ear tumors are more likely to be cancerous than not, with survival rate about 1 year after aggressive surgery. I am going to do a biopsy and talk to my vet more, but for the moment let's assume it's cancerous. If it is, it seems I should just do what I can to keep her comfortable, given her age (which is approximate). However, I don't want to be making decisions on info that's not correct, so... Questions: What is the average lifespan of an indoor-only cat? Are middle ear tumors cancerous more often than not? What is the likely lifespan after a cancerous ear tumor is removed? How does age affect that likely lifespan? If the tumor is not cancerous, it seems it may be more reasonable to do the surgery. Is it? What are the risks and likely outcomes of surgery on a non-cancerous middle ear tumor? Anything else I should consider to figure out what to do next?

July 17, 2018

Pepsi's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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6 Recommendations

Indoor cats can live to be 16-20; middle ear tumors can be either malignant or benign, there isn't any way of knowing without a biopsy; lifespan after surgery depends on many factors individual to the cat; Whether the surgery needs to be done depends again on the type of growth. Risks and benefits depend on the type of growth, but there are risks of nerve damage and infection. I think that you need to have a conversation with your veterinarian to ask all of these questions, and get all of your concerns addressed, as they know more about the specifics of Pepsi's situation, and can comment specifically rather than the vague answers that I have to give you, as I don't know very much about her status. It is very good that you are doing your homework to make the best decision!

July 17, 2018

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Ear Cancer Average Cost

From 539 quotes ranging from $3,000 - $8,000

Average Cost

$6,000

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