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Genetics of Skin Cancer (PDQ®): Genetics - Health Professional Information [NCI] - Squamous Cell Carcinoma

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Investigation into the effect of ionizing radiation on SCC carcinogenesis has yielded conflicting results. One population-based case-control study found that patients who had undergone therapeutic radiation had an increased risk of SCC at the site of previous radiation (OR, 2.94) as compared with individuals who had not undergone radiation treatments.[10] Cohort studies of radiology technicians, atomic-bomb survivors, and survivors of childhood cancers have not shown an increased risk of SCC, although the incidence of BCC was increased in all of these populations.[11,12,13] For those who develop SCC at previously radiated sites that are not sun-exposed, the latent period appears to be quite long; these cancers may be diagnosed years or even decades after the radiation exposure.[14]

The effect of other types of radiation, such as cosmic radiation, is also controversial. Pilots and flight attendants have a reported incidence of SCC that ranges between 2.1 and 9.9 times what would be expected; however, the overall cancer incidence is not consistently elevated. Some attribute the high rate of nonmelanoma skin cancers in airline flight personnel to cosmic radiation, while others suspect lifestyle factors.[15,16,17,18,19,20]

Other environmental factors

The influence of arsenic on the risk of nonmelanoma skin cancer is discussed in detail in the Other environmental factors section in the Basal Cell Carcinoma section of this summary. Like BCCs, SCCs appear to be associated with exposure to arsenic in drinking water and combustion products.[21,22] However, this association may hold true only for the highest levels of arsenic exposure. Individuals who had toenail concentrations of arsenic above the 97th percentile were found to have an approximately twofold increase in SCC risk.[23] For arsenic, the latency period can be lengthy; invasive SCC has been found to develop at an average of 20 years after exposure.[24]

Current or previous cigarette smoking has been associated with a 1.5-fold to 2-fold increase in SCC risk,[25,26,27] although one large study showed no change in risk.[28] Available evidence suggests that the effect of smoking on cancer risk seems to be greater for SCC than for BCC.

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