Usage of Cell Phones and possible Ear Cancer risk

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By Prof Dr Raj Nagarkar, MD & Chief of Surgical Oncology and Robotic Services, HCG Manavata Cancer Centres, Nasik

Pune, 9th June 2022: Cell phones are an indispensable part of our daily lives. We end up spending hours on our phones without realizing the harm it does to us. The human body absorbs energy from devices leading to various health hazards, which may also include brain and skin cancer.

While we know a lot about other types of cancer, many have probably never heard of ear cancer. Ear cancer often starts as skin cancer in the outer ear and spreads to various other ear structures.

Ear cancer can affect both the inside and outside of the ear. It typically begins as skin cancer in the external ear or in the ear canal, but it can also develop in the eardrum, temporal bone, ossicles, mastoid, facial nerve, and inner ear organs of hearing and balance. It encompasses several types of ear cancers, including:

Basal cell carcinoma
Melanoma
Adenoid cystic carcinoma
Adenocarcinoma
Squamous cell carcinoma
Symptoms

Ear cancer symptoms vary depending on which part of the ear is affected. It is crucial to understand some of the symptoms of ear cancer in various parts of the ear.

a. The Outer Ear – The earlobe also called the pinna, and the outer entrance to the ear canal are all part of the outer ear. Signs on the outer ear includes scaly skin in spite of moisturizing, White lumps under the skin and bleeding skin ulcers.

b. Ear Canal – Ear Canal is a tube that runs from the outer ear to the eardrum. Some of the signs in the ear canal includes Lump in or near the entrance of the ear canal, Ear discharge and Hearing loss

c. Middle Ear – The middle ear includes three small bones — the hammer (malleus), anvil (incus) and stirrup (stapes). Signs of ear cancer in the middle ear includes Blood discharge from the ear, Ear pain and Hearing loss.

d. Inner Ear – The inner ear consists of three main parts: Cochlea, Semi-circular Canals and Signs of ear cancer in the inner ear includes Ear pain, Dizziness, Hearing loss, Headache

Ear cancer is frequently misdiagnosed as an ear infection. If ear infection has been diagnosed but the patient has persistent ear discharge or suspect malignancy, it is advisable to get a second opinion.

Causes

There are certain reasons which may increase the chances of developing ear cancer. Spending a greater number of hours in the sun without applying sunscreen puts one at a high risk of developing skin cancer and can lead to ear cancer. Inflammatory responses associated with ear infections may influence cellular changes that may also lead to cancer.

Cell phones and cancer

Cell phones emit radiation in the form of radiofrequency radiation or radio waves and they are widely used. Given how many people use cell phones, even a minor increase in cancer risk is cause for concern. Ionizing radiation, a higher energy form of radiation that cell phones emit has been found to cause some brain and central nervous system cancers. Many different types of studies have been conducted to determine whether cell phone use is harmful to human health. Radiation that the cell phone emits also causes various kinds of skin cancers.

Tips for safer use of mobile devices

1. Limit your time on the phone as long term exposure of high power RF signals could harm our brain cells, skin, ear.

2. Use the speaker, a headset, or a hands-free device instead of holding the phone to your head as they reduce the risk of electromagnetic radiation to brain cells.

3. Look for a cell phone with a lower SAR, or specific absorption rate. A lower SAR value may mean the phone gives off less radiation. Keep in mind that the SAR is based on the phone operating at its highest power. That might not reflect how you actually use your phone.

4. Avoid calls at places with low signal reception as mobile devices increase transmission power if the signal reception is poor.

5. Keep your phone away from your head while sleeping

Diagnosis

Tissue on the outside or in the middle ear where any suspicious growth is observed is sent to a lab to check for cancer cells. This is referred to as a biopsy. Depending on the location of the affected area, a biopsy may be performed under local or general anesthesia so that no pain is felt during the procedure.

Inner ear cancerous growths can be more difficult to reach. This makes it more difficult to perform a biopsy without damaging surrounding tissue. To determine whether cancer is present, imaging tests such as an MRI or CT scan are of great help.

Treatment

Treatment is usually determined by the size and location of the cancerous growth. Surgery is the most commonly treatment for ear cancer. Depending on the severity and location of the cancer, various types of surgeries are used. Skin cancers on the outside of the ear are usually removed surgically. If large areas are removed, reconstruction surgery may be required. Cancers of the ear canal or temporal bone necessitate surgery followed by radiation therapy. The extent of the tumour determines how much of the ear is removed. The ear canal, bone, and eardrum must be removed in some cases. The doctor may be able to reconstruct the ear depending on how much is removed. Hearing is not significantly affected in some cases. If so, one may require the use of a hearing aid.

Practicing sun safety, such as using sunscreen, staying in the shade, and avoiding tanning beds along with spending minimal hours on the phone can reduce risk of skin cancer, which can progress to ear cancer. In case of any untoward symptoms seeking medical consultation is always a good choice.