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A Case of Bowen’s Disease and Small-Cell Lung Carcinoma: Long-Term Consequences of Chronic Arsenic Exposure in Chinese Traditional Medicine *

Chronic arsenic toxicity occurs primarily through inadvertent ingestion of contaminated water and food or occupational exposure, but it can also occur through medicinal ingestion. This case features a 53-year-old lifetime nonsmoker with chronic asthma treated for 10 years in childhood with Chinese traditional medicine containing arsenic. The patient was diagnosed with Bowen’s disease and developed extensive-stage small-cell carcinoma of the lung 10 years and 47 years, respectively, after the onset of arsenic exposure.

Although it has a long history as a medicinal agent, arsenic is a carcinogen associated with many malignancies including those of skin and lung. It is more commonly associated with non–small-cell lung cancer, but the temporal association with Bowen’s disease in the absence of other chemical or occupational exposure strongly points to a causal role for arsenic in this case of small-cell lung cancer. Individuals with documented arsenic-induced Bowen’s disease should be considered for more aggressive screening for long-term complications, especially the development of subsequent malignancies.

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Published on 10-20-2008