Squamous cell carcinoma is one of the most common forms of skin cancer. It occurs when squamous cells begin to grow uncontrollably in the top layers of the skin, called the epidermis.
What is a squamous cell?
Squamous cells serve as linings or coverings in many parts of the body. They act as a thin membrane that allows certain molecules to pass through our body, and they are constantly shedding and regenerating. They are not only found in our skin but also in the cervix, oral cavity, genitals and other parts of the body.
How it forms
Squamous cell carcinoma forms when squamous cells begin to cluster together and grow uncontrollably. In most cases, this is a result of cellular damage caused by repeated exposure to UV rays over time. This means that people who use tanning beds or who have spent a lot of time outdoors are at a much higher risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma. People who have pale skin types, a history of actinic keratosis, an ulcer or sore that won’t go away, have had some form of the human papillomavirus or have been badly burned in the past are also at a higher risk for developing the cancer.
Squamous cell carcinoma usually first appears as:
· a red, scaly, sometimes crusty plaque of skin that may get bigger and develop a sore
· a red, hard domed bump that won’t go away
· a wart-like growth that may bleed or crust
The growths may also be pink and dry and may itch or burn. Squamous cell carcinoma typically shows up on areas of the skin that are exposed to the sun, such as the face, ears, lips, arms, legs and tops of hands, but it can also more rarely appear on areas not exposed to the sun including the lower lip, genitals, in the lining of organs and the passages of the respiratory and digestive tracts.
What it means for those affected
A doctor will diagnose squamous cell carcinoma with a biopsy. Treatment of the cancer will then vary depending on location, size, severity, how far it has spread and the health of the patient. While squamous cell carcinoma is one of the most common types of cancer, it is less dangerous than melanoma. If caught early while it’s still in the skin, it is highly curable, but if left to spread deeper into underlying tissues, lymph nodes or distant organs, it can be deadly.
· Excision: the tumor and a margin of skin around it will be cut out.
· Mohs surgery: this is a specialized surgery that removes the tumor and examines it under a microscope, looking for cancer cells. If cancer cells are found, the surgeon will continue to remove thin layers of skin until no cancer cells are detected.
· Curettage and electrodesiccation: the tumor is first scraped away and then an electrosurgical needle is used to kill remaining cancer cells. These two steps are often repeated.
· Radiation: this is used when other treatments are not available or when excision is not a good choice for the patient. This will often require many treatments.
· Lymph node surgery: part of the lymph node is removed under general anesthesia.
· Dermabrasion: the afflicted area is essentially “sanded down” to remove the cancer cells.
· Targeted drug treatment or chemotherapy is also employed in advanced stages of the cancer.
Learn the warning signs of skin cancer and be sure to see a doctor at the first sign of suspicion.