Definition

What is squamous cell carcinoma?

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is an uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells arising in the squamous cells, which compose most of the skin’s upper layers (the epidermis). SCCs often look like scaly red patches, open sores, elevated growths with a central depression, or warts; they may crust or bleed. They can become disfiguring and sometimes deadly if allowed to grow.

How common is squamous cell carcinoma?

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is a common skin cancer in humans. It can affect patients at any age. It can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of squamous cell carcinoma?

The common symptoms of squamous cell carcinoma are:

  • A firm, red nodule
  • A flat sore with a scaly crust
  • A new sore or raised area on an old scar or ulcer
  • A rough, scaly patch on your lip that may evolve to an open sore
  • A red sore or rough patch inside your mouth
  • A red, raised patch or wart-like sore on or in the anus or on your genitals

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

Make an appointment with your doctor if you have a sore or scab that doesn’t heal in about two months or a flat patch of scaly skin that won’t go away.

Causes

What causes squamous cell carcinoma?

Squamous cell carcinoma of the skin occurs when the flat, thin squamous cells in the outer layer of your skin develop errors in their DNA. Ordinarily, new cells push older cells toward your skin’s surface, and the older cells die and are sloughed off. DNA errors disrupt this orderly pattern, causing cells to grow out of control, with squamous cell carcinoma of the skin as the result.

Much of the damage to DNA in skin cells results from ultraviolet (UV) radiation found in sunlight and in commercial tanning lamps and tanning beds.

But sun exposure doesn’t explain skin cancers that develop on skin not ordinarily exposed to sunlight. This indicates that other factors may contribute to your risk of skin cancer, such as being exposed to toxic substances or having a condition that weakens your immune system.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for squamous cell carcinoma?

There are many risk factors for squamous cell carcinoma, such as:

  • Fair skin.Anyone, regardless of skin color, can get squamous cell carcinoma of the skin. However, having less pigment (melanin) in your skin provides less protection from damaging UV radiation. If you have blond or red hair and light-colored eyes and you freckle or sunburn easily, you’re much more likely to develop skin cancer than is a person with darker skin.
  • Excessive sun exposure. Being exposed to UV light from the sun increases your risk of squamous cell carcinoma of the skin. Spending lots of time in the sun — particularly if you don’t cover your skin with clothing or sunblock — increases your risk of squamous cell carcinoma of the skin even more.
  • Use of tanning beds. People who use indoor tanning beds have an increased risk of squamous cell carcinoma of the skin.
  • A history of sunburns. Having had one or more blistering sunburns as a child or teenager increases your risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma of the skin as an adult. Sunburns in adulthood also are a risk factor.
  • A personal history of precancerous skin lesions. Having a precancerous skin lesion, such as actinic keratosis or Bowen’s disease, increases your risk of squamous cell carcinoma of the skin.
  • A personal history of skin cancer. If you’ve had squamous cell carcinoma of the skin once, you’re much more likely to develop it again.
  • Weakened immune system.People with weakened immune systems have an increased risk of skin cancer. This includes people who have leukemia or lymphoma and those who take medications that suppress the immune system, such as those who have undergone organ transplants.
  • Rare genetic disorder. People with xeroderma pigmentosum, which causes an extreme sensitivity to sunlight, have a greatly increased risk of developing skin cancer.

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is squamous cell carcinoma diagnosed?

Tests and procedures used to diagnose squamous cell carcinoma of the skin include:

  • Physical exam. Your doctor will ask questions about your health history and examine your skin to look for signs of squamous cell carcinoma of the skin.
  • Removing a sample of tissue for testing. To confirm a squamous cell carcinoma of the skin diagnosis, your doctor will use a tool to cut away some or all of the suspicious skin lesion (biopsy). What type of skin biopsy you undergo depends on your particular situation. The tissue is sent to a laboratory for examination.

How is squamous cell carcinoma treated?

Squamous cell carcinoma can usually be treated with minor surgery that can be done in a doctor’s office or hospital clinic. Depending on the size and location of the SCC, your doctor may choose to use any of the following techniques to remove it:

  • Excision: cutting out the cancer spot and some healthy skin around it
  • Surgery using a small hand tool and an electronic needle to kill cancer cells
  • Mohs surgery: excision and then inspecting the excised skin using a microscope
  • Lymph node surgery: remove a piece of the lymph node; uses general anesthesia
  • Dermabrasion: “sanding” your affected area of skin with a tool to make way for a new layer
  • Cryosurgery: freezing of the spot using liquid nitrogen
  • Topical chemotherapy:a gel or cream applied to the skin
  • Targeted drug treatment

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage squamous cell carcinoma?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with squamous cell carcinoma:

  • Avoid the sun during the middle of the day.For many people in North America, the sun’s rays are strongest between about 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Schedule outdoor activities for other times of the day, even during winter or when the sky is cloudy.
  • Wear sunscreen year-round. Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15. Apply sunscreen generously, and reapply every two hours — or more often if you’re swimming or perspiring. Use a generous amount of sunscreen on all exposed skin, including your lips, the tips of your ears, and the backs of your hands and neck.
  • Wear protective clothing. Cover your skin with dark, tightly woven clothing that covers your arms and legs, and a broad-brimmed hat, which provides more protection than does a baseball cap or visor.Some companies also sell protective clothing. A dermatologist can recommend an appropriate brand. Don’t forget sunglasses. Look for those that block both types of UV radiation — UVA and UVB rays.
  • Avoid tanning beds.Tanning beds emit UV rays and can increase your risk of skin cancer.
  • Check your skin regularly and report changes to your doctor. Examine your skin often for new skin growths or changes in existing moles, freckles, bumps and birthmarks. With the help of mirrors, check your face, neck, ears and scalp. Examine your chest and trunk and the tops and undersides of your arms and hands. Examine both the front and back of your legs and your feet, including the soles and the spaces between your toes. Also check your genital area and between your buttocks.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Sources

Review Date: July 1, 2017 | Last Modified: July 1, 2017

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