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About ulcerating cancers (fungating tumours)

Ulcerating tumours are also known as fungating wounds, malignant wounds or ulcerating wounds.

What an ulcerating cancer is

Ulcerating cancers are sometimes called fungating cancers (tumours) or wounds. Fungating describes what the cancer might look like, as they can 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.

Who gets it

Ulcerating wounds are quite rare. However they are more common in the following areas:

  • breast 
  • head and neck
  • chest 
  • genitals 

Ulcerating (fungating) wounds can start in 2 different ways. They can grow from a:

  • primary tumour (where a cancer started)
  • secondary tumour (cancer spread to another part of the body)

Fungating wounds from primary tumours

A primary tumour means a tumour where the cancer started.

An ulcerating tumour can develop in a cancer that hasn't 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).

A cancer that’s left untreated for many months or years 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.

Fungating wounds from secondary tumours

A secondary tumour is a tumour that has spread from a primary site to other parts of the body.

A tumour that spreads to the blood and lymphatic system can travel to the skin and develop into an ulcerating tumour. This is very rare.

The important thing is to always attend follow up appointments after your treatment has finished. Then your doctor can check you over and pick up any early signs of problems.

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.

How it might affect you

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’s very visible, such as on your face.

A wound near a joint or armpit can affect how you move. And wounds on or near the genitals or breasts might make you feel embarrassed, especially when a doctor or nurse is examining or treating you.

These wounds can also smell unpleasant, which can be very distressing.

A few people find having an ulcerating tumour so distressing that they refuse to accept it's 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, it is more difficult to control.

But it’s possible to manage the symptoms of these wounds so that they are easier to live with.

It is important to see your doctor as soon as you notice any signs of an ulcerating tumour.

How you feel about yourself and others

Having an ulcerating tumour might 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 might be worried and embarrassed about other people seeing or smelling your wound. This could stop you wanting to go out or see people.

Surgical dressings over your wound might help you feel better about yourself and being with other people. They can make wearing clothes more comfortable and covering your wound might reduce any smell. 


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.

Last reviewed: 
18 Oct 2017
  • Systemic antibiotics for treating malignant wounds 
    DA Ramasubbu (and others) 
    Cochrane database of systematic reviews, 2017

  • Cancer and its Management (7th edition)
    J Tobias  and D Hochhauser
    Wiley-Blackwell, 2015

  • Symptom Management in Advanced cancer (4th edition)
    R Twycross, A Wilcock and S Toller 
    Radcliffe Medical Press Ltd, 2009

  • Fungating Wounds - Multidimensional Challenge in Palliative care
    M Thomas (and others)
    Breast Care, 2011. 6: 21-24

  • Review of patients' experiences with fungating wounds and associated qualify of life
    S Gibson and J Green
    Journal of Wound Care, May 2013. Vol 22, No 5 

  • Recommendations for the Care of Patients with Malignant Fungating Wounds
    European Oncology Nursing Society, 2015

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