Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Squamous cell carcinoma

Although not the most fatal, skin cancer is the most common type of cancer all over the world. Every year, more people are diagnosed with skin cancer in the United States than all other cancers combined. Statistics from the World Health Organization show that skin cancer accounts for one-third of all cancer diagnosis all over the world. Squamous cell carcinoma ranks second among the most common forms of skin cancer, accounting for about 20% of all skin cancer cases. The tumor typically grows slowly but still possesses the ability to spread to other organs if not caught early. If detected at the early stage, the prognosis is highly encouraging with the American Cancer Society putting the 5-year survival rate at an impressive 99%. If the disease is detected after the cancerous cells have metastasized to other parts of the body, however, the 5-year survival rate drops to 20%.

Causes of squamous cell skin carcinoma

A direct link has been established between squamous cell carcinoma and exposure to radiation. The cancer usually presents on areas that are exposed to UV rays from direct sunlight or tanning beds. There are some other factors that could predispose an individual to developing squamous cell carcinoma

  • Age: risk increases with age
  • Gender: the cancer is more common in males
  • Fair-skin
  • Hair color: blondes and red-haired individuals are at greater risk
  • Persistent exposure to chemicals such as arsenic even at low concentrations
  • Viruses: HPV, HIV or AIDS have all been found to increase the risk
  • Genetics
  • Exposure to radiation

Symptoms of squamous cell carcinoma

The first noticeable symptom of the condition is usually the appearance of a red, scaly patch of skin. It could also present as a dome-shaped growth on an otherwise smooth skin. The elevated portions of the skin would bleed easily when scratched. The growth may also appear on scars or sores that have been around for a while. You should pay particular attention to sudden changes in the consistency of an existing scar.

How is Squamous cell carcinoma diagnosed?

Human skin cells with squamous cell carcinoma under a microscope.

  • History: your doctor would ask if you have been exposed to radiation, indoor tanning beds or outdoor sunburns
  • Physical examination: the characteristics of unusual growths such as color, shape, size, and texture are examined.
  • Biopsy

Treatment options for squamous cell skin carcinoma

If the tumor is caught early, it can be successfully treated with a surgery and there would be little or no damage. However, the longer the tumor goes undetected, the more dangerous it becomes. Asides the disfiguration it could cause, metastasis is also a possibility and the prognosis becomes worse if the tumor already spread to other areas.

There are numerous treatment options available and your physician would select the one that is best for you based on a number of factors. The type of tumor, location, size, depth, etc. are some of the factors that your physician would typically consider. Below are the common treatment options for squamous cell carcinoma:

  • Mohs surgery
  • Excisional surgery
  • Cryosurgery
  • Electrosurgery
  • Laser surgery
  • Photodynamic therapy
  • Radiation therapy

Some guidelines for preventing squamous cell carcinoma

  • Walk less in the sun or totally avoid it during the peak hours
  • Avoid tanning and if you must, indoor tanning beds should never be an option
  • Wear clothing to cover exposed skin when you have to go out in the sun
  • Use broad-spectrum sunscreens
  • Go for regular check-ups especially if you have been diagnosed with the disease at any point in your lifetime