Squamous Cell Carcinoma: what is it?

Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common type of skin cancer. It forms when squamous cells begin to grow uncontrollably in the top layers of the skin, called the epidermis. In most cases, it is caused by repeated exposure to UV rays over time.

Symptoms of Squamous Cell Carcinoma

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. 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 and genitals.  This cancer 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. Treatments include:

· Excisionthe 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 the remaining cancer cells. These two steps are often repeated.

· Radiationthis 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.

· Dermabrasionthe afflicted area is essentially “sanded down” to remove the cancer cells.

· Targeted drug treatment or chemotherapy is also employed in advanced stages of cancer.

Squamous cell carcinoma is more common in people who have spent a lot of time in the sun, have pale skin types, have a history of actinic keratosis, have 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.

Learn the warning signs of skin cancer and be sure to see a doctor at the first sign of anything suspicious.

 

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