Sebaceous Carcinoma: What it Looks Like

A rare skin cancer, sebaceous (suh-bey-shuh s) carcinoma (SC) usually develops on an eyelid. Because it can look like a sty that won’t go away or conjunctivitis (pink eye), many SCs that appear on an eyelid are not diagnosed in the early stages. The earlier any skin cancer is detected, the better the outcome.

Pictures of Sebaceous Carcinoma

Skin cancer on upper eyelid
Sebaceous carcinoma most often develops on the upper eyelid.

  Skin cancer on lower eyelid
The growth on this lower eyelid is sebaceous carcinoma.

Photographs used with permission of the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. The photographs were published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, Vol. # 33, Nelson BR, Hamlet KR, Gillard M, et al.  “Sebaceous carcinoma.”  1 - 15. Copyright Elsevier (1995). Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.

Where Sebaceous Carcinoma Develops
SC can develop anywhere on the body where we have sebaceous glands. Sebaceous glands produce oily substances that keep our skin and other areas moist. Because the skin around the eyes is rich in sebaceous glands, most SCs develop on an eyelid. SC also can appear on the head, neck, inside the mouth, genitals, in the ear, and even on top of the big toe.

When to See a Dermatologist
You should see a dermatologist if you notice the following:

  • A growth on your eyelid that is slowly enlarging, firm, and deep seated. It may look like a sty. It can bleed.

  • A case of conjunctivitis (pink eye) that just won’t go away

  • An open sore on your eyelid that does not heal or heals and then re-appears

  • Any growth on your skin or inside your mouth or ear that does not disappear in two weeks

SC can be aggressive. It can get inside blood vessels and creep along the nerves. This is why early diagnosis and treatment are so important. Left untreated, it can be disfiguring, interfere with your vision, and even spread to other parts of the body.

More Information
What is Sebaceous Carcinoma?

Blake PW, Bradford PT, Devesa SS et al. “Cutaneous appendageal carcinoma incidence and survival patterns in the United States: a population-based study.” Archives of Dermatology. June 2010, 146: 625-32.

Martinelli PT, Cohen PR, Schulze KE et al. “Sebaceous Carcinoma.” In Nouri K. [editor]. Skin Cancer. United States. McGraw Hill Medical; 2008. p. 240-9.

Nelson BR, Hamlet KR, Gillard M et al. “Sebaceous carcinoma.” Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. July 1995; 33: 1-15; quiz 6-8.

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Sebaceous carcinoma can develop anywhere sebaceous (oil) glands occur, such as on the neck, inside the mouth, or even on top of the big toe.





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Page last updated 7/15/10

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