Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Squamous Cell Carcinoma is a common type of skin cancer that typically appears on sun-exposed skin because of increased Ultraviolet (UV) ray exposure. In these areas, SCCs can develop from untreated Actinic Keratoses. However, it is important to know that SCCs can appear elsewhere on the body, including inside the mouth, on the lip, or on the genitals.
- Like Basal cell carcinomas (BCCs), SCCs can grow deeply and become locally disruptive, but it is important to note that they are slightly more aggressive and likely to spread to other parts of the body. This can be deadly. Certain locations are more prone to developing more dangerous SCCs: the lips, ears, and genitals.
- SCCs can have the following appearance:
- Hard, scaly or crusty, reddish bump or patch
- Open sore that itches and bleeds; it may heal, but will return
- Scaly or thickened patch on the lip
People of all skin colors get SCC although it is more common in caucasians.
Your everyday activities expose you to ultraviolet (UV) rays, which damage your skin. You receive this exposure every time you go outdoors during the day, when you drive your car or sit near your office window.
People who use tanning beds have a much higher risk of getting SCC. They also tend to get SCC earlier in life. Your risk of developing SCC increases if you have any of the following factors:
- Your physical traits
- Pale or light-colored skin
- Blue, green, or gray eyes
- Blonde or red hair
- An inability to tan
- Your life experiences
- Spent a lot of time outdoors, for work or leisure, without using sunscreen or covering up with clothing
- Used tanning beds or sunlamps
- Your medical history
- Diagnosed with actinic keratoses (AKs)
- Badly burned your skin
- Have an ulcer or sore on your skin that has been there for many months or years
- Taking medicine that suppresses your immune system, like those after an organ transplant
- Infected with human papillomavirus (HPV)
- Had many PUVA light treatments
- Have an inherited condition that increases the risk of SCC like xeroderma pigmentosa, epidermolysis bullousa, or albinism
Some SCCs begin as a precancerous growth called an actinic keratosis or AK. Most AKs share common qualities such as being dry, scaly, and rough-textured. A single AK may range from the size of a pinhead to larger than a quarter.
To diagnose SCC, a dermatologist performs a skin biopsy. This is the only way to confirm a diagnosis of skin cancer, including SCC. Your dermatologist can perform a biopsy using local anesthesia during an office visit.
Your dermatologist will biopsy all or a representative sample of the growth depending on its size and location on your body. This tissue will be sent to a pathologist to evaluate under the microscope and determine the diagnosis.
If the diagnosis is SCC, your dermatologist will consider many factors to determine the best treatment for you, including where the SCC appears on your body, the size and features of the SCC, and your overall health.
- Keep all appointments with your dermatologist. When found early, skin cancer can often be cured.
- Perform skin self-examinations. Examine your skin as often as your dermatologist recommends. Be sure to check your scalp, ears, genitals, and buttocks.
- If you notice anything on your skin that is changing, itching, or bleeding, immediately make an appointment to see your dermatologist.
- Protect your skin every day by:
- Seeking shade. Shade helps protect your skin from the sun’s harmful UV rays. Shade is especially important between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. when the sun’s rays are strongest. But any time your shadow is shorter than you are, seek shade.
- Wearing protective clothing. This means wearing a long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat, and sunglasses, when possible.
- Generously applying sunscreen that offers broad-spectrum (UVA and UVB) protection, water-resistance, and a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30 or more. Be sure to apply the sunscreen 15 minutes before going outside. Apply it to all skin that clothing will not cover. You should reapply sunscreen every two hours, even on cloudy days. After swimming or sweating, you also need to reapply your sunscreen.
- Protect your skin when around water, snow, and sand. These reflect and intensify the damaging rays of the sun.
- Never use a tanning bed. UV light from tanning beds can cause skin cancer and wrinkling. If you want to look tan, consider using a self-tanning product or spray. Even when using one of these products, you need to use sunscreen.
- Use condoms. This can prevent an HPV infection, which reduces the risk for getting SCC on the genitals.
- Limit the amount of alcohol you drink and do not smoke. Smoking tobacco and drinking alcohol can increase your risk of getting SCC in your mouth.
American Academy of Dermatology