Ten Facts about Squamous Cell Carcinomaby Anne Windermere Patient Advocate
We have been talking about the different types of skin cancers this month on Skin Cancer Connection including melanoma and basal cell carcinoma. In this post we will be discussing some basic facts about squamous cell carcinoma.
Here are some things you should know about this type of skin cancer:
Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) develops from cancerous changes to the squamous cells of the middle portion of the epidermal skin layer. While squamous cell carcinoma may occur on any part of the body it most frequently develops in areas exposed to the sun such as the forehead, ears, neck, the back of the hands, arms, and legs. It is far less likely but is possible to develop SCC in the skin of the genitals.
The earliest stage of squamous cell carcinoma is sometimes called Bowen's disease. It may also be called squamous cell carcinoma in situ. In situ means that the cancer is confined to the epidermis and has not spread. Red scaly patches of skin which may crust over may signify Bowen's disease. The American Osteopathic College of Dermatology has images for you to look at of Bowen's disease.
Squamous cell carcinoma is considered more aggressive than basal cell carcinoma. It is estimated that a small percentage of SCC lesions may spread (metastasize) to distant skin tissues and internal organs. Squamous cell carcinomas which are most likely to metastasize include those lesions which are larger than 2 cm in diameter, recurrent lesions, lesions on the neck, earlobe, eyelid, lips, and temple and lesions which develop in ulcers.
If squamous cell carcinoma does spread to internal organs it can be life threatening. The Skin Cancer Foundation provides an estimate that more than 250,000 new cases of squamous cell carcinoma are diagnosed every year. And approximately 2,500 people will die each year from this type of cancer in the U.S.
The primary symptom to look out for with SCC is a growing bump or lesion on the skin which has a rough scaly surface or flat red patches. The National Institutes of Health have many images of squamous cell carcinomas to look at. Here is a close up of an SCC lesion on the hand.
The risk factors for developing SCC are some of the same risk factors for developing other types of skin cancer including basal cell carcinoma. These risk factors can include having fair skin, blue or green eyes, and blonde or red hair. You are more likely to develop squamous cell carcinoma if you are over fifty and especially if you are over seventy years of age. If you live in a sunny climate and have had many sunburns especially early in life you may be more prone to developing SCC. Being exposed to many x-rays or arsenic can also increase your risk for this type of cancer.
One risk factor unique to squamous cell carcinoma is that genital warts or the human papillomavirus may increase the risk for SCC in the genital and anal areas. And in a recent post I cited research from The American Cancer Society that smoking can increase the risk for developing squamous cell carcinoma.
Squamous cell skin cancer is the most prevalent type of skin cancer for the African-American population. The lesions are more likely to develop on skin sites where the patient has a preexisting inflammatory skin condition or a burn injury.
More men will develop SCC than women. Squamous cell carcinomas are at least twice as frequent in men as they are for women.
Squamous cell carcinoma can be successfully treated especially if caught early. The National Institutes of Health report that the majority (95%) of squamous cell tumors can be cured if they are promptly removed. Although this type of skin cancer may usually be slow growing you don't want to ignore it. If left untreated SCC could cause great disfigurement or even death if it spreads to internal organs.
Perhaps the most important thing to know about all types of skin cancers is that they are usually preventable. For more information about how to prevent squamous cell skin cancer as well as other skin cancers please visit our Skin Cancer Prevention Page.
If you are a squamous cell carcinoma survivor and would like to share your story here it would be greatly appreciated. In addition to finding information and resources most patients want to find support. You can both give and receive that emotional support by sharing your experience with other Skin Cancer Connection community members.