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Sebaceous carcinoma

Patricia Tai, MB, BS, DABR, FRCR, FRCPC
Section Editors
Robert S Stern, MD
June K Robinson, MD
Deputy Editor
Rosamaria Corona, MD, DSc


Sebaceous carcinoma is a rare malignant tumor of the sebaceous glands [1]. It can occur in any body site where sebaceous glands are present, but is most commonly found in the head and neck region, particularly in the periocular area [2]. Sebaceous carcinoma of the eyelid (picture 1) may be mistaken for inflammatory lesions, such as chalazion or blepharoconjunctivitis, resulting in a delayed diagnosis and poorer prognosis [3].

Sebaceous carcinomas can occur sporadically or may be associated with Muir-Torre syndrome, a subset of the hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer syndrome (HNCCS, Lynch syndrome) characterized by single or multiple sebaceous neoplasms, keratoacanthomas, and internal malignancy [4].

This topic will review the pathogenesis, clinical presentation, diagnosis, and treatment of sebaceous carcinoma. Muir-Torre syndrome and Lynch syndrome are discussed separately. (See "Muir-Torre syndrome" and "Lynch syndrome (hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer): Clinical manifestations and diagnosis" and "Lynch syndrome (hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer): Screening and management".)


Sebaceous carcinoma is a rare tumor, with an estimated incidence rate of approximately 1 to 2 per 1,000,000 per year [2,4,5]. However, sebaceous carcinoma is the most common eyelid malignancy after basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma [6,7].

A review of the Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) database from 1973 to 2004 identified 1349 cases of sebaceous carcinoma [2]. More than 90 percent of cases were seen in patients over 50 years old and the median age was 72 years. Sebaceous carcinoma is exceedingly rare in children [8,9].

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Feb 28, 2017.
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