Most of us are aware of the usual signs of skin cancers – moles that look strange or start to change in shape or become itchy or crusty. But squamous cell carcinoma is a different type of skin cancer that looks unusual compared to those we might be on the lookout for. Squamous cell carcinoma symptoms may be harder to spot, but it is still possible to see clearly the signs and to catch it before it becomes harder to treat.
What is squamous cell carcinoma?
This type of skin cancer is the second most common skin after basal cell carcinoma and the incidence of it is rising across the world. In the UK around 10,000 people are diagnosed each year with men more often affected than women. Mostly this skin cancer is locally invasive but it can spread to other parts of the body including the lymph nodes. In just 20% of cases, this is a non-melanoma type of cancer.
Generally, squamous cell carcinoma is quite slow growing, making it easier to treat in the early stages.
The symptoms of squamous cell carcinomas
A squamous cell carcinoma will usually grow on areas of skin that have been exposed to the sun such as the face and hands. In some cases, they may show as scars or skin sores. The main signs include the following:
- Scaly, red patches that might start to bleed or crust over.
- Raised growths that might have a lower centre than the edges.
- Oozing or open sores that will not heal or may heal but then come back in the same spot.
- Growths that look like warts.
- Flat areas of skin with only slight changes (these are much harder to spot)
- The cells may also grow through old scars or other skin sores – making them harder to see.
In most cases squamous cell carcinoma presents as an ulceration of the skin that will not heal. For most people, this is a very obvious problem and leads people to see their doctor quite quickly. However, it is important to see your doctor as soon as you notice this type of skin change or any of the symptoms shown above.
In most cases squamous cell carcinoma can be either cut away or sanded using a dermabrasion tool. In the early stages, the growth can be frozen using liquid nitrogen or even a chemotherapy gel or cream that is applied only to the area. When spread has occurred the lymph nodes may need to be removed or full-scale chemotherapy used.
Keeping a close watch on your skin changes is where your protection from squamous cell carcinoma starts. As well as avoiding sun exposure, you need to keep a close eye on your skin and look for changes that occur. Always see your doctor if you notice anything that concerns you.