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Squamous cell carcinoma in situ of the skin: History, presentation, biology and treatment


  • John P Arlette, FRCPC. Martin J Trotter, FRCPC.

    Manuscripts for this section should be submitted to Dr P Selva-Nayagam.

Dr John Arlette, Main Floor, 1107 7th Avenue SW, Calgary, Alberta T2P 1B2, Canada. Email:


Squamous cell carcinoma in situ (SCCIS) of the skin is a problem commonly dealt with by dermatologists. The classic presentation, originally described by Bowen, is easily recognized, but presentation on some anatomical surfaces may be associated with less than typical features. Major aetiological factors for this disease are UV light, human papillomavirus infection and immunosuppression. The natural course of SCCIS is usually prolonged, with treatment being appropriate, but not urgent. The choice of therapy requires consideration of the location of the lesion, and a desire for a high cure rate without causing loss of form, function or cosmesis. The immunomodulatory agent imiquimod has offered a significant advance for the topical treatment of SCCIS. Our improved understanding of the underlying biology of SCCIS permits us to make rational choices of treatment. In the future we may be able to determine which of these lesions may progress to invasive disease, and help us select the most effective therapy.