Squamous Cell Carcinoma

What is squamous cell carcinoma?

Medical professional in gloves holding surgical tools over a patient's abdomen, preparing for a dermatological procedure.

Squamous cell carcinoma is a common type of skin cancer, with about 700,000 new cases diagnosed each year in the United States. It is most frequently found on areas of the body with the most sun exposure, such as the head, neck or limbs. However, it is possible to develop squamous cell carcinoma on any part of the body, including inside the mouth or on the genitals. While squamous cell carcinoma can spread to other parts of the body, if diagnosed and treated early it has a high cure rate.

What is squamous cell carcinoma?

Squamous cell carcinoma is highly linked to UV exposure from the sun or tanning beds. Research shows that tanning bed users have the highest risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma and they also tend to develop it an earlier age. Although people of all ethnicities develop squamous cell carcinoma, it is most common among fair-skinned people with a long history of sun exposure. Certain physical traits have been linked to a higher risk, such as pale skin, eye colors like blue, green or gray, and hair that is blond or red.

Although most squamous cell carcinomas are linked to UV radiation from the sun or tanning beds, other causes include long-term exposure to carcinogens such as those in tobacco or pesticides. Serious injury to the skin, such as a burn or a slow-healing sore can also develop into squamous cell carcinoma. Some types of HPV (human papillomavirus) are also linked to this cancer.

What are the symptoms of squamous cell carcinoma?

The most common places for squamous cell carcinoma to form are on areas of the skin with the most sun exposure such as the face, ears, lips or arms and legs.

Signs to watch for include a rough feeling bump or lump on the skin or a sore that doesn’t heal or returns. As it grows, it may become dome-shaped or crusty and can bleed. In rare cases, it can grow under a fingernail. Many cases of squamous cell carcinoma grow slowly and develop from a pre-cancerous growth called actinic keratosis. Discuss any sudden color changes or bleeding with your dermatologist right away!

What is the treatment and diagnosis?

mole on womans nose

At Dermatology of Seattle, we will need to perform a biopsy to diagnose skin cancer. This can easily be done during an office visit. During the biopsy, your dermatologist will remove part or all of the growth so that it can be examined under a microscope and a sample sent to a laboratory to confirm the diagnosis.

The best type of treatment for squamous cell carcinoma depends on many factors. Most commonly, the dermatologist will remove the growth as well as a small area of normal tissue around the tumor. This tissue will be checked for cancer cells and a follow-up procedure to remove more skin may be necessary. Other treatment options include radiation, laser removal, chemotherapy topical cream or photodynamic therapy.

With treatment, most people diagnosed with squamous cell carcinomas have a very good prognosis, but early detection is key. If allowed to grow, cancer could spread to other parts of the body.