|Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Signs and Symptoms
Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common malignant eyelid neoplasm
in the United States, after basal cell carcinoma.
It is most often encountered in elderly, fair-skinned individuals who
have a history of chronic sun exposure. Patients presenting with this lesion may
demonstrate a roughened scaly patch of tissue on or near the lid margin or in the canthal
region. The area is typically red, elevated and nodular, with crusted and/or bloody
margins. Often, patients describe this lesion as a non-healing scab. According
to one study, the most common presentation involves nodular ulceration as the disease
progresses, resulting in hemorrhagic or purulent discharge.
Squamous cell carcinoma in its early stages is easily confused with a
multitude of other eyelid lesions, both malignant and benign. Some of these lesions
include basal cell carcinoma, sebaceous gland carcinoma, follicular keratosis, actinic
keratosis, seborrheic keratosis, and keratoacanthoma.
Rarely are patients with squamous cell carcinoma symptomatic, displaying
only mild irritation in most cases. Acuity is not affected unless the lesion is so large
as to obscure the visual axis.
Squamous cell carcinoma is a potentially invasive tumor derived from
surface epithelium. In the early stages, the normal epithelial cells are replaced by
atypical squamous cells throughout the epidermis, resulting in a loss of normal
maturation. This stage is sometimes referred to as squamous cell carcinoma in situ. After
the dysplastic squamous cells encroach beyond the borders of the basement membrane, the
lesion is referred to as invasive squamous cell carcinoma.
While no single causative agent for the development of squamous cell
carcinoma has been identified, it is clear that ultraviolet radiation is a substantial
risk factor and demonstrates a distinct association with this disease. This is supported
by the fact that the majority of squamous cell tumors arise on the lower lid margin and
medial canthus, the two periocular areas most susceptible to sunlight exposure. Increasing
age and northern European descent are two other commonly associated factors in patients
with squamous cell carcinoma.
The management of squamous cell carcinoma is virtually identical to that of
basal cell carcinoma of the lid. These lesions may be treated with surgical excision,
radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or cryotherapy. The preferred course for most cases is
surgery, with broad margins to ensure complete removal. Frozen tissue sections of the
tumor borders are evaluated intraoperatively to further assure that the lesion is excised
completely (Mohs micrographic technique). This method offers the greatest success with the
least incidence of recurrence. Local radiation and/or systemic chemotherapy may be used in
managing squamous cell carcinoma when surgery is intolerable or refused by the patient.
Both of these modalities carry significant side effects, and neither is as efficacious as
surgical intervention. Cryotherapy has been used somewhat effectively for smaller tumors,
but does not ensure complete tumor eradication, and therefore results in a high
Other reports in this section
- Squamous cell carcinoma represents approximately
- 5 percent of all eyelid malignancies. While this particular neoplasm does
possess the ability to invade local tissues and metastasize to other organ systems, it is
not a particularly aggressive tumor. Its rate of development is quite slow, and metastasis
is exceedingly rare. Still, the potential for damage exists in cases where diagnosis and
treatment are delayed.
- Early biopsy is often the key to diagnosis. Suspicious lid lesions, which
demonstrate irregular growth, changes in color or appearance, or discharge of a purulent
or bloody nature should be biopsied to rule out cancerous entities. Confirmed malignancies
should be referred promptly for treatment by an oculoplastics specialist or, where
possible, an ocular oncologist.