What is squamous cell carcinoma?
Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common type of skin cancer. It forms in the squamous cells, which are found in the epidermis, the topmost layers of the skin. It occurs when squamous cells begin to grow uncontrollably.
In most cases, this is caused by repeated exposure to UV rays over time. Squamous cell carcinoma usually first appears as a red, scaly plaque of skin or as a hard domed bump. Both varieties typically feel rough and crusty and can bleed when scraped. Below as some skin cancer pictures to help you know what to look out for.
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 center 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 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.
What does squamous cell carcinoma look like?
As stated, Squamous cell carcinoma usually first appears as a red, scaly plaque of skin or as a hard domed bump. Growths may also be pink and dry and may itch or burn. The cancer usually 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.
Squamous cell carcinoma usually develops slowly but can spread to the lymph nodes and other organs if left untreated. If caught early though, it is highly treatable.
A doctor will diagnose squamous cell carcinoma with a biopsy. Treatment of cancer will then vary depending on location, size, severity, how far it has spread and the health of the patient.
SCC Treatment options
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.