Your sebaceous glands are tiny glands within your skin that produce sebum. Sebum is a greasy substance that moisturizes and protects your skin. A very aggressive type of skin cancer, called sebaceous carcinoma, can develop within these important glands. Here are three things you need to know about sebaceous carcinoma.
What are the signs of sebaceous carcinoma?
Most of the time, sebaceous carcinoma develops on the skin around the eyes. This is because there are more sebaceous glands in this area than in other areas of your skin. The upper eyelid is the most common site, but the lower eyelid and the caruncle (the red tissue at the inner corner of your eye) can also be affected.
This type of cancer is hard to identify because it doesn't have a characteristic appearance. It may present as a hard, yellowish lump on the skin, or it can look like a harmless chalazion (stye). It can also present as chronic blepharitis (inflammation of the eyelid) or conjunctivitis (pink eye). The loss of the eyelashes can also be a sign of sebaceous carcinoma.
Since its appearance can vary so much, sebaceous carcinoma is hard to identify. To be safe, you need to bring any new lumps around your eyes to your dermatologist's attention. Your optometrist may refer you to a dermatologist if they suspect your eye conditions are caused by sebaceous carcinoma.
What causes this cancer?
Like other types of skin cancers, it's been linked to both sunlight and radiation. Both outdoor sunlight and indoor tanning beds may lead to this condition, as can radiation from other sources, like the radiation therapy used to treat other cancers. This type of cancer is much more common in Caucasians than in people of other races which further supports the sun exposure theory.
How is sebaceous carcinoma treated?
The good news it that when sebaceous carcinoma is found early, it can often be treated successfully, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Many treatments are available, depending on the spread of the cancer.
If the cancer is diagnosed early, it can be surgically excised by your dermatologist. About 30% of sebaceous carcinomas recur after excision, says NIH, so further treatments like radiation or chemotherapy may be required. Once you've finished your treatment, your dermatologist may refer you to a cosmetic surgeon for eyelid reconstruction.
Sebaceous carcinoma is a sneaky type of cancer, so be suspicious of lumps around your eyes and eye conditions that don't respond to treatment. If you're concerned about sebaceous carcinoma, see a dermatologist right away.