What is an ulcerating tumour? | Cancer Research UK
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What is an ulcerating tumour?

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This page tells you what ulcerating tumours are. There is information on


About ulcerating tumours

Ulcerating tumours are also known as fungating wounds, malignant wounds or ulcerating wounds. The term fungating isn’t a very nice description but the name comes from the way the wounds grow, in the shape of a fungus or cauliflower. The wounds start when a tumour growing under the skin breaks through the skin’s surface. They can also develop from skin cancers such as melanoma.

Ulcerating tumours are quite rare in people with cancer. When they do develop, they are most likely in cancers of the breast and head and neck cancers. Up to 6 out of 10 (60%) ulcerating tumours develop in the breast area and 2 to 3 out of 10 (20 to 30%) in the head and neck region. The rest occur in other places such as the groin and genital area, and in people with melanoma and bowel cancer.

An ulcerating tumour can develop in two ways. It may develop as part of a


Primary tumours

A primary tumour means where the cancer started. An ulcerating tumour may develop in a cancer that has not been treated. Sometimes, people are so frightened about what a doctor will tell them, that they don't go to the doctor even when they have symptoms of cancer (for example, a lump in their breast). If left untreated for many months or years, a cancer can grow upwards and into the skin. It can then break through the skin and cause an open sore (or ulcer) on the skin surface.


Secondary tumours

These are tumours that have spread from a primary site to other parts of the body. If a tumour spreads to the blood and lymphatic system it can travel to the skin and develop into an ulcerating tumour. This is very rare and is more likely to happen in the advanced stages of cancer (a cancer that has spread). The important thing is to always attend follow up appointments after your treatment has finished. This allows your doctor to check you over and pick up any early signs of problems. But in between follow up appointments don’t be afraid to contact your doctor if you are worried, especially if you have any new symptoms, such as unexplained skin lumps or sores.


Effects of ulcerating tumours

For some people, an ulcerating tumour is the most upsetting aspect of their cancer. How the wound affects you will depend on where it is on your body. It can greatly affect how you feel about yourself if it is very visible to other people – for example, on your face. If it is near a joint or in your armpit, it can affect movement. Wounds on or near the genitals or breasts may make you feel embarrassed, especially when being examined or treated.

Unfortunately, these wounds can also smell unpleasant. There is information about controlling unpleasant smells in this section.

A few people find having an ulcerating tumour so distressing that they refuse to accept that it is there. They feel the best way to deal with it is to ignore it. Sometimes people leave their wound so long that by the time they do see a doctor little can be done to control it. But it is possible to manage the symptoms of these wounds so that they are easier to live with. So it is important to see your doctor as soon as you notice any signs of an ulcerating tumour.

Having an ulcerating tumour may have a big impact on how you feel about yourself and being with other people. Your outward appearance can play a big part in how you feel about social situations. You may be worried and embarrassed about other people seeing or smelling your wound, and this might stop you wanting to go out or see people. A surgical dressing you feel comfortable with, and clothing or headgear that cover up your wound, can help you feel better about yourself and about mixing with other people.

Some types of cancer treatment can help to shrink ulcerating tumours but they can be very hard to get rid of completely. So the aim of treatment is to control the symptoms. There is more information about living with an ulcerating tumour in this section.

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Updated: 29 January 2015