Bowen’s Disease

What is Bowen’s Disease?

Bowen’s disease is also known as squamous cell carcinoma in situ .  This disease is easily curable.  The cells make up the outer layer of skin. All the cancerous cells are in the top layer. The cancer cells may spread along the top layer, but it is a very slow moving process, and could take years to do.  Only 3 to 5 % of patients with Bowen’s disease experience the disease moving into deeper layers of the skin.  In this case, it would turn into another form of skin cancer. If left untreated, there are risks that could be associated with it.

Bowen’s Disease Symptoms

Bowen’s disease can effect any portion of the skin.  It is commonly seen on the arms, legs and trunk. It will most likely appear as a scaly patch on the skin that is red, and may or may not itch.  It is about 1 to 3 cm in diameter.  The skin can bleed, scab over and be sore. It is more common in woman then in men and will usually effect those that are in their 70s to 80s. More often than not, it will appear on those that have had lots of exposure to the sun, and is seen on many with fair skin.  However, it has been known to show up in areas that would not see exposure to sunlight, such as the genitals.   It is common to effect those that are taking medications to suppress the immune system.

Bowen’s Disease is not genetic, and it can not be passed through skin contact. It is rarely related to arsenic exposure.  One is at more of a risk for developing Bowen’s disease if they have had radiotherapy in the effected area.

Bowen’s Disease Treatments

There are many treatments available for Bowen disease.  A dermatologist will examine the skin, looking at the size and thickness, as well as the number of patches on the skin to determine the best treatment option.  Treatment options include:

  • Cryotherapy- The effected skin will be sprayed with nitrogen in a liquid form. The effected area could weep and blister, and a scab will form. The scab will fall off within a few weeks, and remove the effected skin.
  • Curettage and Cautery- The skin that is effected is scraped away. Local anesthetics are used. Heat or electricity will stop any bleeding.  The area will scab over, and heal within a few weeks.
  • Photodynamic Therapy- Effected skin will have a light sensitive cream applied to it.  A laser will be moved over the skin 4 to 6 hours later, which will destroy all abnormal cells. One will need more than one treatment with photodynamic therapy.  It takes about 45 minutes to do the process.  After the laser treatment  is done, a bandage will be applied to protect the skin from light.
  • Imiquimod Cream or Chemotherapy cream- The cream will be applied to the skin that is effected over a period of time.  Skin could become red and inflamed with use.
  • Surgery- Abnormal skin cells are cut out, with stitches needed more than likely. This works well if there is just a small patch.

Bowen’s disease is fully treatable, however, it is best to have it treated right away before damage is further done.  With a wide range of treatments, you and your dermatologist will be able to successfully remove the effected skin.  It will take time to heal back into normal skin.  Do note that if the effected treated skin begins to bleed or change in appearance, such as a lump developing, one should see their dermatologist immediately.  Always follow up protocol that the doctor has set up, such as applying sunscreen and wearing protective clothing.


Reference Sources:

1. Royal Australian College of General Practitioners

2. Cancer Council Australia

4 replies
  1. Diddy
    Diddy says:

    After years of torturing my skin, by laying out and rubbing myself in with baby oil instead of sunscreen, I developed a case of Bowen’s disease. You know at the time, when you are young, you don’t think about damage that you are doing the your skin. I only wanted a nice tan at the time. If I could go back and change that I would. I was treated for Bowen’s disease two years ago. I opted to do the cryotherapy. My skin did scab over and it took about 13 days for the scab to fall off. The procedure was a bit on the painful side, but I just kept telling myself that I could handle it because I was going to beat this skin cancer! And I did. So if you have it, you can beat it as well as it is fully treatable!

  2. T. Olivia
    T. Olivia says:

    I have never heard of Bowen’s Disease before. I must say that I am glad that it is fully treatable. Is it possible to have a large patch on the skin? Or do they tend to just stay in smaller sections? My husband has a patch on his leg, but it is not small. Have not been to the doctor yet for it, because he says it is just a rash. I wonder if it could be Bowen’s disease. Granted, he is in his 50’s and has spent many days out in the sun. He works outside for a living and has worn shorts many of the days, thus exposing his legs. They do not itch that I am aware of. I think that I might just set up an appointment with my doctor for him as it is better to be safe than sorry.

  3. Gamby
    Gamby says:

    I know that Bowen’s Disease is fully treatable. I have had it before. I was shocked to learn that mostly older people in their 70s to 80s get it. I am only 40! But I was diagnosed with it last year. I urge you to get it treated as soon as you can. It is worth it. My skin healed nicely, as me and my dermatologist opted to do the photodynamic therapy. I had to have 3 sessions done. It was the best decision that I made for my skin. The sessions were not painful and once the cream had sank into my skin, the process went smoothly. I now take precautions to cover up my tender skin, and always wear sunscreen. I limit my time out in the sun as well since the nasty sun exposure was what did it to me in the first place!

  4. Florita
    Florita says:

    If one opts for the Imiquimod cream, how much do you apply and how many times daily? Is this just prescribed by the dermatologist for the patient to put on themselves at home? Or would one have to go into the dermatologist office to have it applied?


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