The earlobe can be affected by all sorts of tiny bumps that can look like pimples, but bumps can also be caused by cancer: five kinds that have the potential to resemble pimples.

One of the hallmark features of a skin cancer that appears on an earlobe is that it doesn’t go away.

However, a benign lesion won’t always go away on its own, either.

Benign lesions such as an overgrowth of the epidermis (aka seborrheic keratosis) may continue to grow, as in, from one millimeter to the width of a pencil eraser, but will eventually stop – usually before they get to this width.

They also won’t crust, ulcerate or bleed – which is very possible with an ignored skin cancer.

How to Know when a “Pimple” on an Earlobe Is Actually Cancer

“Skin cancers that may resemble pimples or small pink-red bumps include basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and much less commonly, amelanotic melanoma,” says Emily de Golian, MD, a board certified dermatologist with Dermatology Consultants, P.C., in Atlanta, GA.

“These may occur anywhere on the skin, but the most common area to develop basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas is the head/neck region, including the ear.” See top image: basal cell carcinoma.

Though what seems like a stubborn pimple can be a malignant growth, it can also be one of any number of benign conditions such as an inflamed hair follicle, clogged sebaceous gland, inflamed cartilage or cyst.

But don’t assume anything.

“A pimple-like bump that fails to resolve and/or grows over time, becomes tender or bleeds should be evaluated by a board certified dermatologist,” says Dr. de Golian.

Hopefully you will not convince yourself that the bump in question is a common pimple with an indefinite lifecycle just because it’s still there after several months.

If something won’t go away, no matter what it looks like, have a dermatologist inspect it.

“A wide variety of bumps on the skin may be normal, while others may represent skin cancer or precancer and require treatment,” says Dr. de Golian.

So if you’re afraid to hear what the doctor says, don’t let this stop you from making an appointment.

Telltale Signs You Have Cancer on an Earlobe

• Spontaneous bleeding

• Rapid growth—fast becoming increasingly nodular (bumpy or dome shaped) and/or dark

• Crusting, oozing, ulcerating

• Dark pigment “bleeding” out onto surrounding skin

Warning: Absence of these signs does not rule out cancer. Skin cancers always have an early stage, during which they may appear quite innocent—like a pimple.

Five Cancers that Can Look Like a Pimple on the Earlobe

Basal cell carcinoma. Typically presents as a tiny bump-like lesion with a pearly border or pearly overlay. See the next three images.

BCC. Shutterstock/Dermatology11

 

Shutterstock/Dermatology11

 

Shutterstock/Dermatology11

Location on an earlobe will make close inspection of this cancer’s classic pearly border very difficult, but from a further-out viewing, an early BCC can easily look like a harmless pimple.

A BCC can seemingly stay the same for several years, but eventually, if not treated, will invade surrounding tissue and become quite ugly.

BCC is the most common cancer of all, and 700,000 new cases a year are diagnosed in the U.S. Do not panic if you suspect a basal cell carcinoma.

Metastases to distant sites is exceptionally rare – and only in neglected cases.

Melanoma. Though melanoma is typically portrayed as looking like a “dark scary mole,” or a “black or purple mole with very jagged edges,” certain forms of melanoma can pass as a pimple.

Amelanotic melanoma presents as flesh to pink colored, and nodular melanoma can start out pinkish.

Melanoma can appear anywhere where there’s skin, and that includes the earlobe.

Squamous cell carcinoma. Usually it doesn’t resemble a pimple, but it can.

Squamous cell carcinoma. Shutterstock/Dermatology11

 

Keratoacanthoma. This slow growing cancer can morph into squamous cell carcinoma.

Keratoacanthoma. Shutterstock/Dermatology11

 

Merkel cell carcinoma. This is very rare, but it can spread so quickly that in general, prognosis is poor.

Merkel cell carcinoma. Source: Archives of Craniofacial Surgery 2018;19(3):205-209

Merkel cell carcinoma. Source: Archives of Craniofacial Surgery 2018;19(3):205-209

There is nothing intrinsic about the earlobe that would make these tumors any more threatening, from a biological standpoint.

But the earlobes sometimes just don’t get the attention that more viewable portions of the body get.

The entire outer surface of the ear should always be included in skin exams. And so should whatever inner areas you can see.

Here are details on how to conduct a thorough exam of your earlobes for cancer.

If you notice a pimple, don’t wait 30 days to examine it again.

Don’t obsess over the new “pimple,” but take a look at least every several days for suspicious signs.

Dr. de Golian focuses on the surgical treatment of skin cancer via Mohs surgery, cutaneous oncology (melanoma and basal cell carcinoma), surgical defect reconstruction and cosmetic dermatology.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.
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Top image: Kelly Nelson, MD, NCI, cancer.gov