Squamous cell skin cancer is the second most common skin cancer diagnosed in the United States today. An estimated 250,000 new cases are diagnosed each year. Although it was once found mainly in older adults, it is becoming more frequently diagnosed in individuals less than 40 years of age.
Squamous cell carcinoma is usually highly treatable and considered 90 to 95% curable. But if left untreated it can destroy healthy tissue and spread to the lymph nodes or other organs. Most of these cancers result from prolonged exposure to ultraviolet radiation from either the sun or tanning beds. Those individuals who live in countries close to the equator have a higher rate of developing any type of skin cancer and must be diligent about self-examination.
Sunscreen is also an important part of safety program but does not completely prevent any type of skin cancer. While squamous cell carcinoma usually develops on sun exposed skin, they can also appear anywhere on the body including inside the mouth and on the genitals.
The most common form of squamous cell skin cancer will appear as a firm red nodule or a flat lesion with a scaly crust. Occasionally an individual will notice a new ulceration or raised area on a pre-existing scar or an ulcer or white patch inside the mouth. Individuals who notice a red, raised patch or ulcerated form the anus or genitals may also be experiencing squamous cell carcinoma. Individuals who notice any of these types of lesions on their body should seek medical attention in order to obtain an accurate diagnosis and effective treatment. It is only through early treatment that this particular type of cancer has an excellent cure rate.
Although sun exposure is often a cause of squamous cell cancer other factors will lead to this type of disease. Therapeutic radiation used in the treatment for psoriasis or x-rays used in the treatment for melanoma can initiate the development of squamous cell carcinoma years later. Certain chemical toxins such as arsenic which is found widely in the environment is also a well-known cause. The US Department of Health and Human Services estimates that the average American eats between 11 and 14 mg of arsenic every day.
Human papilloma virus or HPV is a group of viruses that causes genital warts. Researchers now believe that this infection with certain strains may play a role in the development of squamous cell carcinoma. Another risk factor for development of this cancer is the immunosuppressive drugs necessary to prevent organ rejection after transplant surgery. Up to 80% of people who take these medications will develop squamous cell carcinoma years after treatment has begun.
There are several risk factors for the development of this skin condition. A lifetime in the sun, or commercial tanning booths, is the most common cause of squamous cell carcinoma. Other factors that will contribute are the color of your skin, your sex, a personal history of skin cancer, a weakened immune system from other diseases, smoking, inflammatory skin disease such as psoriasis, or a rare genetic disorder called the xeroderma pigmentosum.
In addition to taking a complete medical history the physician may also to a biopsy for examination under a microscope. This means that the doctor will take a small section of the tumor in order to have a pathologist, a doctor who has significant expertise in diagnosing skin samples, examine the skin cells under a microscope. Squamous cell carcinoma is often biopsy by shaving the top layers of the skin with a surgical blade. Tumors may also be partially or completely removed during biopsy. Because these biopsies are likely to remove a small scar you should talk to your doctor about the potential risk for scarring and how to prevent the worst effects.
If treated early squamous cell cancer usually causes no long-term problems. If if left untreated, these tumors can spread to nearby lymph nodes or other organs. People who have had organ transplant, leukemia or AIDS have a far more likely chance of getting an aggressive form of squamous cell carcinoma than those who are otherwise healthy.
Interestingly, tumors which appear on the lips and ears are more often spread to other sites or re-occur after treatment. Also a large tumors, those which are larger than 2 cm, are also more likely to spread then tumors which are caught early.
Squamous cell carcinoma is treated by removing it completely through minor surgery and occasionally with topical medication. Today surgeons have an option of either freezing the tumor, using simple exhibition or laser surgery to remove the cancer cells.
Moh’s surgery is often considered the most effective treatment, especially for those that are larger than 2 cm. During this procedure the healthcare practitioner will remove the tumor layer by layer and examined it under a microscope until no abnormal cells remain. This allows for the entire growth to be removed without taking an excessive amount of surrounding healthy tissue. Doctors may also use radiation therapy or chemotherapy in creams or lotions to treat these conditions.
If you suspect that you have a skin cancer lesion it is important that you seek medical advice immediately to initiate early treatment. With early treatment most skin cell cancers have a 85 to 95% cure rate.
American Cancer Society: Skin Cancer: Basal and Squamous Cell
MedlinePlus: Squamous Cell Carcinoma
American Cancer Society: Basal and Squamous Cell cancers
MayoClinic: Squamous Cell carcinoma
Cancer.net: Skin Cancer
College of American Pathology: Skin Cancer
University of Maryland Medical Center: Squamous Cell Skin Cancer