What is sebaceous carcinoma?

Sebaceous carcinoma is a type of skin cancer found in areas of the skin that have oil glands. The most common site where this skin cancer develops is the eyelid. Other potential sites include the face and neck, arms and legs, inside the mouth or ear, and the genitals. However, sebaceous carcinoma can occur in any area of ​​the body where sebaceous glands are present.

Factors that could contribute to the development of this type of skin cancer include sun exposure and a weakened immune system. Age is another factor. Most patients who develop this disease are middle-aged or older. Gender may also be a contributing factor, because women develop this condition more often than men. Also, radiation treatment might contribute to the development of this rare cancer, because some patients who receive radiation therapy later develop these skin tumors.

Genetics is another potential cause of the disease. Patients who develop Muir-Torre syndrome (MTS), a rare genetic disorder that makes patients more susceptible to multiple types of cancer, may develop sebaceous carcinoma. Sebaceous carcinoma can be an indication that a patient has MTS, so anyone who develops the condition should also be screened for possible MTS.

Although this type of skin cancer is a rare condition, it is also aggressive. Tumors can come back after treatment. Recurrence usually occurs within five years of the initial diagnosis. Like all cancers, this condition can also metastasize or spread to other parts of the body.

When this type of skin cancer occurs on the eyelid, it often resembles a stye. It can also mimic conjunctivitis. For this reason, the disease can be misdiagnosed. Additional eye symptoms include loss of eyelashes and distorted vision.

In other parts of the body, sebaceous carcinoma appears as a slowly growing mass. These masses or nodules can be pink to yellow-red in color. They can also bleed.

Diagnosis of this rare cancer requires a biopsy of the tumor. Doctors may also order blood tests, urine tests, chest X-rays, and imaging studies to rule out metastases. If MTS is suspected, patients may be asked to have a colonoscopy, because metastasis to the colon is common with MTS.

Possible treatments for sebaceous carcinoma include cryosurgery and surgical excision. Mohs surgery, a technique in which the surgeon removes one layer of skin at a time, is another possible treatment. Radiology may be included in the patient's care if the cancer has spread.

Anyone with a stye that won't go away, an eyelid sore that won't heal, a case of conjunctivitis that won't go away, or a skin mass that won't go away should be evaluated for possible sebaceous carcinoma. Survival rates for patients with sebaceous carcinoma are good with early diagnosis and treatment. However, patients who have been diagnosed with this skin condition should be closely monitored by their doctors for possible metastases.

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