What are the recommended margin sizes in surgical excision of cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma (cSCC)?

Updated: Jul 08, 2020
  • Author: Talib Najjar, DMD, MDS, PhD; Chief Editor: Arlen D Meyers, MD, MBA  more...
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A 4-mm margin of healthy tissue is recommended for lower-risk lesions. [45] In this category are well-differentiated tumors smaller than 2 cm in diameter that do not occur on the scalp, ears, eyelids, lips, or nose and do not involve subcutaneous fat. Therefore, simple excision is most valuable in the treatment of small primary SCCs on the trunk, extremities, or neck, where tissue sparing is less essential. [45] Recurrence rates after the excision of low-risk lesions range from 5% to 8%.

A 6-mm margin of healthy tissue is recommended for lesions that are larger than 2 cm, invasive to fat, or in high-risk locations (ie, central face, ears, scalp, genitalia, hands, feet). Given the cosmetic and functional impact of these wider margins, tumors in this latter category are often removed via Mohs surgery to achieve high cure rates while sparing normal tissue. The depth of an excision should always include a portion of the subcutaneous fat.

No large randomized studies have addressed the issue of appropriate margin size in cSCC, as has been done for melanoma. The recommendations for margin size should be taken only as rough guidelines, with the understanding that large, aggressive lesions frequently have substantial extension beyond the apparent superficial boundary. Therefore, a surgeon’s experience and judgment in planning surgical margins is paramount to the successful treatment of cSCC.

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