Photo Rounds

Painful lesion on lower lip

A 52-year-old woman was seen by a family physician (FP) who was on a global health trip to Africa. The patient presented with a 6-month history of a growing and painful lesion on her lower lip. The patient’s face and lip showed some scarring that was secondary to a burn that she received when she was a teenager while cooking over an open flame. The new lesion hurt at times and bled when traumatized.

What’s your diagnosis?


Painful lesion on lower lip

The FP recognized this as a probable squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) arising in a burn, known as a Marjolin ulcer.

The combination of the burn and the location on the lower lip made it extremely likely that this lesion was an SCC. The FP suggested the patient get a biopsy and have surgery for treatment. Unfortunately, the patient lived in poverty with no health insurance, financial means, running water, or electricity and stated that she could not afford any medical treatment. Her local hospital required cash payments, and she did not believe they would help her without funding and hoped that the medical mission team could help her. The FP was saddened by this news, but suggested that she do her best to access treatment in the near future. The FP did not have access to a pathologist (even if he could do the biopsy). Ultimately, the patient would need an experienced surgeon to excise this SCC.

With close to 1 billion people living in extreme poverty in the world, this is one sad example of a person that likely went without medical care for a serious, but treatable, illness.

Photos and text for Photo Rounds Friday courtesy of Richard P. Usatine, MD. This case was adapted from: Karnes J, Usatine R. Squamous cell carcinoma. In: Usatine R, Smith M, Mayeaux EJ, et al. Color Atlas of Family Medicine. 2nd ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2013:999-1007.

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