Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is the second most common cancer of the skin. Squamous cell carcinoma is a tumor that arises in the outer layer of the skin (the epithelium). More than 250,000 new SCCs are diagnosed every year in the United States. Middle-aged and elderly persons, especially those with fair complexions and frequent sun exposure, are the most likely to be affected. If treated in a timely manner, it is uncommon for skin squamous cell carcinoma to spread to other areas of the body. Squamous cell carcinomas often arise from small, sandpaper-like growths called solar or actinic keratoses.
How do you get squamous cell carcinoma?
Ultraviolet-light exposure (through the sun or tanning parlors) greatly increases the chance of developing skin cancer. Persons with light skin who sunburn easily are at highest risk, although anyone can get squamous cell carcinoma. With increasing age, the risk of developing skin cancer grows. Heavy sun exposure and severe sunburns as a child may especially increase the likelihood of skin cancer. Many less common skin conditions also predispose individuals to the development of SCCs and include organ transplantation, chronic skin ulcers, prior X-ray treatment (e.g. for acne in the 1950s), arsenic ingestion, and toxic exposure to tars and oils.
What does squamous cell carcinoma look like?
A squamous cell carcinoma generally appears as a crusted or scaly area of the skin, with a red, inflamed base. Squamous cell carcinoma can present as a growing tumor, a non-healing ulcer, or just as a crust. Any worrisome skin lesions, especially those that are not healing, are growing, are bleeding or are changing in appearance, should be evaluated by a board-certified dermatologist. A skin biopsy for microscopic examination is usually necessary to confirm the diagnosis.
Where does squamous cell carcinoma appear?
Squamous cell carcinomas are common in sun-exposed areas like the face, neck, and arms. The scalp, backs of hands, and ears are especially common. However, SCC can occur anywhere on the body, even on the lips, inside the mouth, and on the genitalia.
How serious is squamous cell carcinoma?
Usually, these skin cancers are locally destructive. If left untreated, squamous cell carcinoma can destroy much of the tissue surrounding the tumor and may result in the loss of a nose or ear. In certain aggressive types of squamous cell carcinoma, especially those on the lips and ears or those that are left untreated, the tumor can spread to the lymph nodes and other organs, resulting in approximately 2,500 deaths each year in the United States.
How do dermatologists treat squamous cell carcinoma?
The board-certified dermatologists at Miramar Dermatology use a variety of different surgical treatment options depending on location of the tumor, size of the tumor, microscopic characteristics of the tumor, health of the patient, and other factors. Most treatment options are relatively minor, office-based procedures that require only local anesthesia. At Miramar Dermatology, a board-certified pathologist is present so that microscopic margin evaluation can be performed intra-operatively when indicated. Because of Dr. Gottlieb’s extensive training and experience in surgical excision and reconstruction, you are assured of the best surgical outcome. Most patients take comfort in knowing that Miramar Dermatology has the only physician in Florida that is board certified in both dermatology and facial plastic surgery.
Surgical excision to remove the entire cancer occasionally requires "Mohs" micrographic surgery. This is a procedure that is used for certain types of squamous cell carcinomas and for those located on certain areas of the body. Other dermatologic treatments include cryosurgery with liquid nitrogen (the "frozen" method), radiation therapy, and electrodesiccation and curettage (called "ED&C"), which involves alternately scraping and applying an electric current to destroy the tumor.
Can squamous cell carcinoma be prevented?
Decreasing your exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light
is the primary form of prevention and is important at all ages.
Outdoor activity should be limited between late morning and early
afternoon, tanning parlors should be shunned, and wide-brimmed hats
should be worn along with other protective clothing. Sunscreens
with SPF 30 or higher and UVA and UVB block should be applied regularly
even for a brief exposure to sunlight. Always keep in mind that
the sun’s UVA and UVB cancer-causing radiation is present
even on cloudy and rainy days. Make sure that sun-exposed areas
always have a healthy coat of sun block!
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