Key Points about Sebaceous Carcinoma

  • Sebaceous carcinoma most commonly begins on and around the eyelids and can cause a lump or thickening skin on the eye.
  • Sebaceous carcinoma is rare and is sometimes mistaken for a stye, pink eye or chalazion.
  • Doctors use imaging tests, biopsy and physical exam – including a skin exam and eye exam – to diagnose sebaceous carcinoma.
  • Treatment for sebaceous carcinoma typically involves surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy.


Skin cancer is cancer that begins in the cells of the skin. Sebaceous carcinoma is a rare type of skin cancer, and it starts in an oil gland in your skin. This type of cancer most commonly begins on the skin of the eyelid. Because it can metastasize (spread) to other areas of the body, it is important that those with sebaceous carcinoma receive a prompt, accurate diagnosis and treatment.

Sebaceous carcinoma causes 

Sebaceous carcinoma is a rare cancer caused by a mutation (change) to the DNA of the cells of the oil glands. Researchers are working to uncover the exact cause of this cancer and the role the sun plays in its development.

Sebaceous carcinoma risk factors

The following factors may increase your risk for developing sebaceous carcinoma:

  • Being between the ages of 60 and 80; however, it can begin at an earlier age
  • Being diagnosed with Muir-Torre syndrome
  • Having too much unprotected sun exposure
  • Having a weakened immune system due to certain medical conditions, such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or cancer
  • Having undergone previous radiation therapy to your head or neck

Sebaceous carcinoma symptoms

Signs and symptoms of sebaceous carcinoma can include:

  • A painless lump or thickening of the skin on your eyelid
  • A yellowish lump
  • A growth on the eyelid that looks like a pimple
  • A sore on the eyelid that doesn’t heal
  • Lump on the eyelid that bleeds or oozes (especially in later stages)

Sebaceous carcinoma diagnosis

Your oncologist may use one or more of the following tests to diagnose this condition:

  • Physical exam - your doctor will perform a complete physical exam, including asking questions about your health history, symptoms and related risk factors. Your doctor will perform a skin exam and eye exam as part of the physical exam.
  • Biopsy - in this test, your doctor removes a biopsy (small tissue sample) from the suspicious area of the skin. This sample is sent to the laboratory, where a specialist closely checks the biopsy for abnormalities.
  • Computerized tomography (CT) scan - your doctor may order a CT scan to help determine if the cancer has spread beyond your skin. This specialized imaging test uses a series of X-ray images to create detailed pictures of the inside of your body. 
  • Positron emission tomography (PET) scan - your doctor may use this type of imaging test to help determine if the cancer has spread. A PET scan uses a radioactive substance to provide information about the activity of potentially cancerous cells.

Sebaceous carcinoma treatment

Depending on your personal health history, the extent of your sebaceous carcinoma and other factors, your oncologist may recommend one or more of the following treatment options:

  • Surgery - your doctor will likely recommend a surgical procedure to remove the cancerous area, along with a margin of healthy tissue. One type of procedure – known as Mohs surgery – involves removing thin layers of tissue and then examining them under a microscope until no cancerous cells remain in the sample.
  • Chemotherapy - this treatment involves the use of medications to destroy cancer cells. Chemotherapy drugs can be delivered orally (a pill taken by mouth) or an intravenous, or IV, liquid (injected into a vein). You may need to undergo chemotherapy after surgery so that your doctor can destroy any cancerous cells that couldn’t be removed surgically or if the cancer has spread beyond the original area.
  • Radiation therapy - this treatment uses high-powered energy beams to destroy cancerous cells. You may need to undergo radiation therapy to destroy any cancerous cells that couldn’t be removed surgically or if the cancer has spread beyond the original area.

When should I seek care?

If you experience any of these symptoms, start by voicing your concerns and symptoms to your primary care provider. From there, your doctor may suggest seeing an oncologist for more specialized treatment.

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