Bowen’s Disease

By Matthew Cenzon. May 7th 2016

What is Bowen's Disease?

Bowen's disease is a type of skin disease that is characterized by a reddish-brown, crusted patch on a person's skin. According to Web MD, it resembles other skin conditions like dermatitis and psoriasis and can occur on any part of the skin or in the mucous membranes. Bowen's disease can be considered an early stage of a type of skin cancer known as squamous cell carcinoma. Also known as squamous cell carcinoma in situ, Bowen's disease was derived from the dermatologist who first described the disease, Dr. John T. Bowen.

Causes of Bowen's Disease

There are various causes for Bowen's disease, some of which are very similar to other types of skin conditions like constant exposure to direct sunlight. However, there are several causes and risk factors that are exclusively linked to Bowen's disease, such as:

  • Exposure to arsenic, or chronic arsenical intoxication.
  • Viral infection from human papillomavirus or HPV.
  • Disease and conditions that affect the immune system such as AIDS.

Signs and Symptoms of Bowen's Disease

Bowen's disease is a skin disease that can spread slowly throughout the body. In some cases, they can be described as red patches over the skin, and in other cases, they can have the appearance of raised spots and may even look like warts. One of the most common symptoms of Bowen's disease is itching in the affected region. The affected area can even feel painful and can also bleed. Because it is an early form of squamous cell carcinoma, signs, symptoms and the physical appearance of Bowen's disease are similar.


There are certain measures a person can take to help prevent Bowen's disease:

  • Avoid long, direct exposure to the sun.
  • Always apply sunscreen when outside or exposed to the sun.
  • Use safe, self-tanning options as opposed to dangerous tanning methods like tanning beds.
  • Wear protective clothing.

These are just a few methods for protecting yourself against Bowen's disease. However, researchers have found that Bowen's disease can appear in areas of the body that were not exposed to the sun at all, and can be attributed to other risk factors like arsenic intoxication or HPV.

Treatments for Bowen's Disease

According to Cancer Research UK, there are several methods available for treating Bowen's disease:

  • Freezing: Also known as cryotherapy, freezing the area affected by Bowen's disease with liquid nitrogen can help destroy the diseased skin tissue.
  • Imiquimod cream: Imiquimod cream is a form of treatment used for certain growths or tumors that can be used to treat Bowen's disease. It is especially useful for treating affected areas that are large in size or difficult to reach for other forms of treatment.
  • Surgery: Surgery is another form of treatment for Bowen's disease, specifically for small affected areas. Smaller patches are less complicated to remove and can be done so under local anesthetic. For larger areas, imiquimod cream or cryotherapy might be more suitable for treatment.
  • Chemotherapy: This particular form of treatment requires the application of special cream to the affected area. Side effects can include soreness and reddening of the affected area.
  • Radiotherapy: Similar to other forms of skin cancer, radiotherapy is an effective way of destroying cancerous cells while minimizing the damage to healthy skin surrounding areas affected by Bowen's disease.

Early diagnosis is key for treating and containing Bowen's disease. The more time this disease has to spread throughout a person's body, the more difficult it will be to treat the affected area.

Contacting Your Physician

It may be difficult, at first, to determine if you are suffering from Bowen's disease since it can take on the appearance of dry, scaly skin, a sore or a typical scab. The fact that it resembles other skin disorders like psoriasis and dermatitis also make Bowen's disease hard for people to identify. However, if the affected area does not heal, and the red, brown, scaly skin does not go away for some time, consult a dermatologist to see if you are suffering from Bowen's disease. If you are suffering from any of the possible causes of Bowen's disease, such as arsenic intoxication, HPV or AIDS, consult your physician immediately.


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