What is Sebaceous Carcinoma?

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  • Written By: Michele Wyan
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 11 October 2019
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Sebaceous carcinoma is a type of skin cancer found on areas of the skin that have sebaceous glands. The most common site where this skin cancer develops is the eyelid. Other potential sites include the face and neck, the arms and legs, the inside of the mouth or ear and the genitals. Sebaceous carcinoma can occur, however, in any area of the body where sebaceous glands are present.

Factors that might 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 illness are middle age or older. Gender can be a contributing factor, too, because females develop this condition more often than males. In addition, radiation treatment might contribute to the development of this uncommon cancer, because some patients who receive radiation therapy subsequently develop these cutaneous 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, can develop sebaceous carcinoma. Sebaceous carcinoma can be an indication that a patient has MTS, so anyone who develops the condition should also be examined for possible MTS.


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

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

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

Diagnosis of this rare cancer requires a biopsy of the tumor. Physicians might also order blood tests, a urinalysis, chest X-rays and imaging studies to rule out metastasis. If MTS is suspected, patients might 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 might be included in the patient’s care if the cancer has spread.

Anyone with a sty that doesn’t go away, an eyelid sore that doesn’t heal, a case of pink eye that doesn’t go away or a skin mass that doesn’t go away should be evaluated for possible sebaceous carcinoma. Survival rates for patients who have sebaceous carcinoma are good with early diagnosis and treatment. Patients who have been diagnosed with this skin condition, however, should be closely monitored by their physicians for possible metastasis.


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