Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Squamous cell carcinoma, or SCC, is the second most common form of skin cancer. SCCs often look like scaly red patches, open sores, elevated growths with a central depression, or warts; they may crust or bleed. SCC is mainly caused by cumulative UV exposure over the course of a lifetime. It can become disfiguring and sometimes deadly if allowed to grow. An estimated 700,000 cases of SCC are diagnosed each year in the United States, resulting in approximately 2,500 deaths.

SCCs may occur on all areas of the body including the mucous membranes and genitals, but are most common in areas frequently exposed to the sun: the ear, lower lip, face, bald scalp, neck, hands, arms and legs. Often the skin in these areas also reveals telltale signs of sun damage, such as wrinkling, changes in pigmentation, and loss of elasticity, especially as the patient gets older.

People who have fair skin, light hair, and blue, green, or gray eyes are at highest risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma. But anyone with a history of substantial sun exposure is at increased risk. Those whose occupations require long hours outside or who spend their leisure time in the sun are also at risk.

If you’ve had a basal cell carcinoma you may be more likely to develop a squamous cell carcinoma, as is anyone with an inherited, highly UV-sensitive condition such as xeroderma pigmentosum.

Squamous cell carcinomas are at least twice as frequent in men as in women. They rarely appear before age 50 and are most often seen in individuals in their 70’s.

Chronic infections, skin inflammation, HIV and other immune deficiency diseases, chemotherapy, anti-rejection drugs used in organ transplantation, and excessive sun exposure can all lead to a risk of squamous cell carcinoma.

Occasionally, squamous cell carcinomas arise spontaneously on what appears to be normal, healthy skin. Some researchers believe the tendency to develop these cancers can be inherited.

Treatment of SCC

Squamous cell carcinomas detected at an early stage and removed promptly are almost always curable and cause minimal damage. However, left untreated, they may grow to the point of being very difficult to treat. A small percentage may even metastasize to distant tissues and organs. Your doctor can help you determine if a particular SCC is at increased risk for metastasis and may need treatment beyond simple excision.

Fortunately, there are several effective ways to treat squamous cell carcinoma. The choice of treatment is based on the type, size, location, and depth of penetration of the tumor, as well as the patient's age and general health. Treatment can almost always be performed on an outpatient basis.