Dear Barb – Bowen’s Disease

Dear Barb:

For the last little while I’ve had a rash on my leg. At first, I thought it was a patch of dry skin. I kept putting cream on it, but nothing seemed to help. I finally went to the doctor. I have always been a person who spent time in the sun. So, I was devastated when I was diagnosed with Bowen’s Disease. I don’t really have a question. I was just wondering if you could do a column on this condition so others could be informed of the dangers of the sun. Thanks.

Charlene in Burlington

Hi Charlene. Until I received your letter, I had never heard of Bowen’s Disease. However, I was able to find a lot of information about this disease.

Wikipedia provides the following description of Bowen’s Disease:

“Bowen’s disease is a sunlight-induced skin disease, considered either as an early stage or intraepidermal form of squamous cell carcinoma. It was named after Dr. John T. Bowen, the doctor who first described it in 1912.”

As stated, Bowen’s Disease is a type of skin cancer that usually appears on sun-exposed skin. The most common site for a lesion is on the lower leg, but it can occur anywhere on the body. Bowen’s Disease is a form of squamous cell carcinoma, which is the second most common form of skin cancer. The condition frequently appears on fair skinned individuals who have spent time in the sun or in a tanning booth.

The cancer cells in Bowen’s Disease are localized to the affected patch of skin, which means the cells are not likely to have spread to other organs. However, if it is left untreated, it can spread to the lymph nodes.

The lesion’s appear as a crusty scaly patch that grows larger over time. It may be itchy or oozy. It may be red or brown in colour. The edges of the area are generally irregular. This condition rarely occurs before the age of 30. It affects women significantly more often than men.

If Bowen’s Disease is suspected, a biopsy must be done to confirm the diagnosis. The most common treatment is to surgically remove the lesion, as well as a quarter inch around it to ensure the entire area affected has been removed. If a person is not able to undergo this type of surgery, the area can be removed using liquid nitrogen or through a laser treatment. The most important aspect to this disease is to have the area removed as soon as possible. As well, to prevent reoccurrences, it is recommended that further sun exposure be avoided and a broad-spectrum sun screen be applied daily.

Thanks for writing in Charlene. I’m sure others will benefit from learning about this disease.

Further information about skin cancer, including preventative measures, can be found on the Canadian Cancer Society’s web site.

E-mail your questions to Some submissions may be edited for length or to protect confidentiality: your real name and location will never be printed. This column is for entertainment only. The author is not a professional counsellor and this column is not intended to take the place of professional advice.

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