DOI: 10.12968/jowc.2024.33.2.102 ISSN: 0969-0700

Malignant wound aetiology, diagnosis and management: a case series and literature review

Lauren Fang, Richard Simman, Lauren Workman, Samar Ayoub, Camille Bratton
  • Nursing (miscellaneous)
  • Fundamentals and skills


Malignant wounds develop when neoplastic cells invade the skin either locally or by lymphatic and haematogenous spread. They can present as hard-to-heal wounds and underlying causes include: primary skin cancer; metastasis of extracutaneous primary malignancy; malignant transformation of a hard-to-heal wound; iatrogenic injury; and cutaneous forms of cancers of non-skin origin. High clinical suspicion for a malignant wound should be confirmed with skin biopsy. The aim of this case series is to highlight a combination of both clinically clear cutaneous malignancies and not-so-obvious wounds caused by malignancy.


This case series examines patients with malignant wounds of varying aetiology and appearance. For each case, we explain the pathophysiology, atypical features, diagnostic approach and treatment. We also discuss types of wound biopsy and general wound management principles.


Among the 11 cases analysed using descriptive statistics, median wound duration before presentation at our clinic was one year, while median age at presentation was 65 years. Our case series included the following diagnoses: cutaneous metastasis of invasive ductal carcinoma of the breast (n=2); cutaneous metastasis of colorectal adenocarcinoma (n=1); Marjolin's ulcer (n=1), basal cell carcinoma (BCC) (n=2), primary cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) (n=1), metastatic malignant melanoma (n=1), cutaneous T-cell lymphoma (n=1), cutaneous angiosarcoma (n=1), Kaposi sarcoma (n=1) and recurrent tonsillar SCC with osteoradionecrosis (n=1); one case had both BCC and SCC.


Punch and excisional biopsies were the most frequently used diagnostic techniques. Local wound therapy addressed bleeding, malodour, exudate, pain and infection. However, wound healing is usually achieved once the underlying malignancy is treated. In advanced or metastatic disease, palliative wound care aims to prevent exacerbation of existing wounds and focuses on patient comfort.

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