Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC) is a type of skin cancer that usually begin as pink scaly patches, open sores, or raised bumps with a central crater. Like basal cell carcinoma they are usually slow growing, however, certain squamous cell skin cancers can develop on the skin quickly and grow rapidly. When this happens they can sometimes be tender or inflamed and cause some pain in the area of the skin where they are located.
Squamous cell carcinoma skin cancer is usually not fatal. However, in some rare cases, if there is a delay in treatment they can sometimes metastasize to other parts of the body. If this happens they can be fatal at times depending on the extent of the spread. Squamous cell carcinoma can grow large over time and be quite disfiguring, so early detection and early intervention is key to a satisfactory outcome.
Risk factors for squamous cell carcinoma are similar to that of basal cell carcinoma and include sun exposure, sun burns, fair skin and genetics. In addition to those risk factors, a history of prior radiation therapy puts you at a greater risk of developing a squamous cell carcinoma. Immuno-suppression from chronic illness, infections such as HIV or organ transplant patients on anti-rejection drugs are also at an increased risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma of the skin.
The best protection against squamous cell carcinoma is education! Wearing sunscreen, protecting our younger generations, avoiding indoor tanning and being as careful as we can when playing or working outdoors is our best defense against developing this form of skin cancer.
- Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher 20-30 minutes before sun exposure.
- Re-apply sunscreen every 60-90 minutes while in the sun.
- Avoid peak hours of the sun between 10am and 2pm.
- Wear sun protective clothing.
- Do not burn!
- Avoid indoor tanning.
- Examine your skin once a month for new or changing spots.
- Have a yearly skin examination to ensure your skin is in good health.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma Treatment
Squamous cell carcinoma of the skin is completely curable with appropriate treatment and early intervention. The best treatment often depends on the size and location of the skin cancer. There are many acceptable options for treating squamous cell carcinoma.
- Excisional Surgery: Most squamous cell carcinomas are best treated with complete surgical excision. The entire skin cancer plus a small margin of healthy tissue is removed and the surgical defect is stitched closed. This is usually done right in the office. The end result is a surgical scar – a small price to pay to be cancer free. Check out the section on Procedure Care to learn how to take care of your excision site after this is done.
- MOHS Micrographic Surgery: This is a technique used for large skin cancers or lesions in tissue sensitive areas (scalp, face, ears, nose, hands, shins, feet, toes). The skin cancer is removed in layers and microscopically examined in the office, while you wait, to ensure all the skin cancer is completely removed. Once all the skin cancer is taken out completely, the area can then be stitched closed. This has one of the highest cure rates for treatment of basal cell carcinoma. Check out the section on Procedure Care to learn how to take care of your excision site after this is done. See more on MOHS
- Electrodessication and Curretage: This is an acceptable form of treatment for superficial squamous cell skin cancers and smaller lesions on preferred parts of the body. This is not an effective treatment for invasive squamous cell skin cancers. This requires a local numbing agent to be given by injection to the area where the skin cancer is located. The skin cancer is then burned with an electric needle and scraped away. The site typically heals well and cure rates are acceptable. Check out the section on Procedure Care to learn how to take care of the sites after this procedure is done.
- Cryotherapy: This is better known as freezing. This method can also be used for superficial and smaller skin cancers, but not deeper or invasive types. This skin cancer gets frozen with liquid nitrogen which results in a destructive blister to the skin causing the skin cancer cells to fall off as it heals. When done properly cure rates are high. Check out the section on Procedure Care to learn how to take care of the site after freezing.
- Radiation Therapy: Radiation can often be done for lesions that are hard to treat surgically or on patients that are not good surgical candidates. This would be done at an appropriate radiation facility. Treatment is usually spread out over a 4-6 week period consisting of treatments up to 5 days a week. Cure rates are acceptable when the treatment is followed exactly as it is recommended by the Radiation Oncologist.
- Topical Therapy: Only certain superficial types of squamous cell carcinoma may be appropriately treated with prescribed topical creams. They are not indicated or appropriate for more involved lesions. One cream works as a topical chemotherapy (5-fluorouracil) while another works to stimulate the body’s immune system (imiquimod) to fight the skin cancer.
If you have been diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma I want you to know that their are many great options to treat this. You should not delay seeking treatment because doing so may complicate the outcome. Early detection and early treatment is essential to managing squamous cell carcinoma. At our visit I can discuss all the treatments above and explain to you what treatment(s) would be best for you based on these different factors. Remember, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to dealing with skin cancer. Each patient is evaluated on an individual basis to determine the best plan of action for you.
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