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Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is the second most common form of skin cancer. It’s usually found on areas of the body damaged by UV rays from the sun or tanning beds. Sun-exposed skin includes the head, neck, ears, lips, arms, legs, and hands.

SCC is a fairly slow-growing skin cancer. Unlike other types of skin cancer, it can spread to the tissues, bones, and nearby lymph nodes, where it may become hard to treat. When caught early, it’s easy to treat.

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Certain things make you more likely to develop SCC:

  • Older age
  • Male
  • Fair-skinned
  • Blue, green, or gray eyes
  • Blonde or red hair
  • Spend time outside; exposed to the sun's UV Rays
  • Tanning beds and bulbs
  • Long-term exposure to chemicals such as arsenic in the water
  • Bowen’s disease, HPV, HIV, or AIDS
  • Exposed to radiation
  • Inherited DNA condition

Symptoms

SCC usually begins as a dome-shaped bump or a red, scaly patch of skin. It’s usually rough and crusty, and can bleed easily when scraped. Large growths may itch or hurt. It may also pop through scars or chronic skin sores, so check for any changes and report them to your doctor.

How It's Diagnosed

Your doctor may refer you to a dermatologist who specializes in skin conditions. He will ask about your medical history, your history of severe sunburns or indoor tanning, any pain or symptoms you're having, and when the spot first appeared.

You'll have a physical exam to check the size, shape, color, and texture of the spot. The dermatologist will also look for other spots on your body and feel your lymph nodes to make sure they aren’t bigger or harder than normal. If your doctor thinks a bump looks questionable, he'll remove a sample of the spot (a skin biopsy) to send to a lab for testing.

Treatments

Squamous cell carcinoma can usually be treated with minor surgery that can be done in a doctor’s office or hospital clinic. Depending on the size and location of the SCC, your doctor may choose to use any of the following techniques to remove it:

  • Excision: cutting out the cancer spot and some healthy skin around it
  • Surgery using a small hand tool and an electronic needle to kill cancer cells
  • Mohs surgery: excision and then inspecting the excised skin using a microscope
  • Lymph node surgery: remove a piece of the lymph node; uses general anesthesia
  • Dermabrasion: "sanding" your affected area of skin with a tool to make way for a new layer
  • Cryosurgery: freezing of the spot using liquid nitrogen
  • Topical chemotherapy: a gel or cream applied to the skin
  • Targeted drug treatment

How to Protect Yourself

  • Avoid the sun during peak hours.
  • Use sunscreen daily.
  • Wear clothing to cover exposed areas.
  • Avoid tanning beds.

If you’ve been diagnosed with skin cancer, you're more likely to get it again -- so visit your doctor for regular skin checks.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Stephanie S. Gardner, MD on June 23, 2014
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