Squamous Carcinoma of the Eyelid

By Paul T. Finger, MD


Squamous carcinomas of the eyelid can locally invade the orbit and sinuses, but rarely metastasizes. It is the second most common malignant eyelid tumor, but is 10 times less common than basal cell carcinoma. It is the most common conjunctival cancer and may spill over onto the eyelid.


Note the relatively flat surface, red (indurated - inflammed) edges, and the white flakey material on the right side of its surface.
Note the relatively flat surface, red (indurated – inflammed) edges, and the white flakey material on the right side of its surface.

Patients with squamous eyelid tumors can have symptoms that range from the appearance of a hypervascular flat pale, reddish or flaky lesion on the eyelid skin to a thickened well-demarcated reddish, flat tumor surrounded by inflammation (with or without scaling from its surface).


Squamous carcinoma of the eyelid should be photographed at baseline. These lesions can remain unchanged (for years), then invade into the dermis and grow. A simple wedge biopsy can be performed in the office setting and sent for pathologic evaluation. Once the diagnosis of squamous carcinoma is biopsy proven, definitive treatment is needed.


Like basal cell carcinomas, squamous cell cancers of the eyelid rarely metastasize. However, they can grow around the eye into the orbit, sinuses and brain. Therefore, early intervention with complete excision is warranted. Depending on their training, eye care specialists will either perform a planned excision with frozen-section control (of the margins) or the Moh’s Technique. Both types of surgery are used to remove the entire tumor along with a small safety zone of normal appearing tissue from the edges of surgical wound (margins). No comparative studies have shown one technique better than the other. When the orbit and sinuses are not involved, local excision is usually curative.

Extension into the orbit and sinuses typically requires more extensive surgery (exenteration, sinusectomy) with subsequent radiation therapy.

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