What Is 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, chest, upper back, 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.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma Symptoms
SCC can show up as:
- A dome-shaped bump that looks like a wart
- A red, scaly patch of skin that’s rough and crusty and bleeds easily
- An open sore that doesn’t heal completely
- A growth with raised edges and a lower area in the middle that might bleed or itch
Squamous Cell Carcinoma Causes
Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays, like the ones from the sun or a tanning bed, affects the cells in the middle and outer layers of your skin and can cause them to make too many cells and not die off as they should. This can lead to out-of-control growth of these cells, which can lead to squamous cell carcinoma.
Other things can contribute to this kind of overgrowth, too, like conditions that affect your immune system.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma Risk Factors
Certain things make you more likely to develop SCC:
- Older age
- Blue, green, or gray eyes
- Blonde or red hair
- Spend time outside, exposed to the sun's UV Rays
- History of sunburns, precancerous spots on your skin, or skin cancer
- 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
- Weakened immune system
Squamous Cell Carcinoma Diagnosis
Your doctor may refer you to a dermatologist who specializes in skin conditions. They will:
- Ask about your medical history
- Ask about your history of severe sunburns or indoor tanning
- Ask if you have any pain or other symptoms
- Ask when the spot first appeared
- Give you a physical exam to check the size, shape, color, and texture of the spot
- Look for other spots on your body
- Feel your lymph nodes to make sure they aren’t bigger or harder than normal
If your doctor thinks a bump looks questionable, they’ll remove a sample of the spot (a skin biopsy) to send to a lab for testing.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma Treatment
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 different techniques to remove it.
For small skin cancers:
- Curettage and electrodessication (C and E): removing the top layer of the skin cancer then using an electronic needle to kill cancer cells
- Laser therapy: an intense light destroys the growth
- Photodynamic therapy: a photosensitizing solution applied to your skin then activated with a light or daylight, or sometimes with intense pulsed light
- Cryosurgery: freezing of the spot using liquid nitrogen
For larger skin cancers:
- Excision: cutting out the cancer spot and some healthy skin around it, then stitching up the wound
- Mohs surgery: excision and then inspecting the excised skin using a microscope; this requires stitching up the wound
- Superficial radiation therapy
For cancers that spread beyond your skin
- Lymph node surgery: remove a piece of the lymph node; uses general anesthesia
- Topical chemotherapy : a gel or cream applied to the skin, sometimes with microneedling
- Targeted drug treatment
- Ablative and nonablative lasers, or chemical peels
Squamous Cell Carcinoma Complications
If it’s not treated, squamous cell carcinoma can spread and damage healthy tissue and organs. In rare cases, it can be life-threatening. That can be more likely if:
- The cancer is large or very deep.
- The cancer involves mucous membranes, like your lips.
- You’ve had an organ transplant.
- You have a weakened immune system because of certain conditions, like some types of leukemia.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma Prevention
- Avoid the sun during peak hours.
- Use a broad spectrum sunscreen daily -- even when it’s cloudy and raining -- on exposed skin, and reapply frequently when outside.
- Wear clothing to cover exposed areas.
- Avoid tanning beds.
- Look closely at your skin regularly to see if there are any new growths or any changes in moles, freckles, bumps, or birthmarks. Pay attention to your face, neck, ears, scalp, chest, arms, hands, legs, feet, genital area, and between your buttocks. Call your doctor if you notice anything that looks questionable.
If you’ve been diagnosed with skin cancer, you're more likely to get it again -- so visit your doctor for regular skin checks. There are preventive supplements such as nicotinamide (vitamin B) and Heliocare (polypodium leucotomos fern extract).