Squamous Cell Carcinoma

1 What is Squamous Cell Carcinoma?

Squamous cell carcinoma is a cancer of squamous cells found in the skin throughout the body. It develops in the thin, flat squamous cells which make up the outer layer of the skin. 

Although usually not life-threatening, it may cause serious complications. Prolonged exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation usually from sunlight is the major cause of all almost all types of skin cancer including this. 

Thus, only better option to avoid such traumatic skin condition is to avoid UV light. Cancer Multimedia Squamous cell carcinoma of the skin in Minnesota is one of the top Cancer hospitals in the nation for 2015-2016 as concluded by U.S. News & World Report.

2 Symptoms

Most common signs and symptoms of squamous cell carcinoma are as follows: 

  • A firm, red nodule
  • A flat sore with a scaly crust 
  • A new sore or raised area on an old scar or ulcer 
  • A rough, scaly patch on lip that may evolve to an open sore 
  • A red sore or rough patch inside mouth 
  • A red, raised patch or wart-like sore on or in the anus or on the genitals 
  • Persistent sore or unhealed scab or a flat patch of scaly skin that hardly goes away means that it is high time you consult your doctor.

Squamous cell carcinoma of the skin is more likely to occur on UV-exposed skin including scalp, the backs of your hands or ears. However, it does not spare mouth, anus and on genitals either.

3 Causes

Squamous cell carcinoma of the skin is caused when the flat, thin squamous cells in the outer layer of your skin develop errors in their DNA. Ordinarily, new cells push older cells toward your skin's surface, and the older cells die and are sloughed off.

DNA errors disturb the normal pattern of replacement of outer layer of the skin by fresh layer. It leads to uncontrolled growth of cells that ultimately gives rise to cancerous state. Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is the sole cause in causing this type of cancer whose sources may be sunlight, commercial tanning lamps and tanning. 

Apart from prolonged UV-exposure, other factors which may contribute to risk of skin cancer include prolonged exposure to toxic substances or weak immune system.

4 Making a Diagnosis

When you suspect squamous cell carcinoma, you should immediately consult with a specialized doctor or dermatologist to receive a diagnosis. Some information that could be helpful during diagnosis is your medical history, including previous radiation therapies. 

Be free to talk about any prescription or over-the-counter medications, vitamins, supplements, or herbal remedies that you have been currently administering. Do not let yourself down on hearing the word cancer

Most of the skin cancers are treatable.  Take a plenty of time to think and consult regarding queries like what kind of cancer is it? IS it treatable or not? Does it spread? Take time to make a plan regarding the treatment, understand some unavoidable side effects of cancer therapies and chances of recurrence. It is obvious to answer the questions asked by your doctor regarding the signs and symptoms. 

Give right information on first noticed skin growth or lesion, lesion painful or not, time of exposure to the sun or tanning beds, exposure to herbicides or pesticides, your sources of drinking water and your current medications if any. 

Tell your doctor frankly if you are a smoker or alcoholic. Do you or did you smoke? Tests and procedures carried out to diagnose squamous cell carcinoma of the skin are as follows:

  • Physical examination: During physical examination, a doctor will examine your skin to look for signs of squamous cell carcinoma of the skin and ask for your medical history.
  • Biopsy: it is a confirmatory test to confirm a squamous cell carcinoma of the skin. It requires a tool to cut away some or the entire suspicious skin lesion and run some laboratory examination.

5 Treatment

Most forms of squamous skin cell carcinoma are treatable requiring minor surgery combined with few topical medications. However, the treatment plan is made by your doctor accordingly which depends on the size, location and aggressiveness of the cancerous cells. 

Few treatment methods are as follows:

  • Electro-desiccation and curettage (ED and C): This method is suitable for small squamous cancer cells and it involves removal of the infected skin layer with a scraping instrument (curet) and then searing the base of the cancer with an electric needle
  • Laser therapy: An intense beam of light is used to treat very superficial skin lesions. This method is safer as it does less destruction of surrounding tissues and has reduced risk of bleeding, swelling and scarring. 
  • Freezing: Freezing cancer cells with liquid nitrogen (cryosurgery) is suitable for treating superficial skin lesions. 
  • Photodynamic therapy: It involves photosensitizing drugs and light to treat superficial skin cancers. Liquid drug that makes the cancer cells sensitive to light is applied to the skin and a beam of light is focused on the affected areas to destroy the cancer cells.
  • Medicated creams or lotions: Anti-cancer medications in the form of creams and lotions are applied directly to skin. 
  • Simple excision: Cancerous tissue and a surrounding margin of healthy skin are cut and removed.
  • Mohs surgery: Infected skin layers are removed time and again and examined under the microscope until no abnormal cells growths are observed. 
  • Radiation therapy: This method utilizes high-intensity beams of light like X-rays to destroy cancer cells. It is quite useful to treat deep rooted tumors and the cancer cells that have high chance of recurrence. It is as alternative to painful methods like surgery. 

6 Prevention

Few tips to prevent squamous cell carcinomas of the skin are as follows:

  • Avoid skin exposure in the mid day sun as the intensity of rays are strongest between about 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. in most of the places. It is better to schedule outdoor activities during morning and evening hours or in winter or on cloudy days. 
  • Apply suitable sunscreen lotions with an SPF of at least 15 on all exposed body parts when there is high chance of prolonged exposure and reapply it every two hours.
  • Wear full sleeve clothe as far as possible and cover your face with a broad-brimmed hat
  • Sunglasses may offer extra protection around your eyes. 
  • Avoid tanning beds that emit UV rays. 
  • Make sure that you get regular skin check up and focus on existing moles, freckles, bumps and birthmarks if they have started to seem weird recently throughout your body including face, neck, ears and scalp, chest, trunk, tops and undersides of your arms and hands, front and back of your legs and feet, soles and the spaces between toes, genital area and between your buttocks. 

7 Risks and Complications

Various factors that may increase the risk of squamous cell carcinoma are as follows:

  • Skin Tone: A person with blond or red hair and light-colored eyes and prone to freckle or sunburn is much more likely to develop skin cancer than is a person with darker skin. High level of melanin in your skin offers higher level of protection against UV rays. 
  • Exposure time to sun: Longer the duration of exposure to sun light usually in daylight, greater is the chance of getting skin cancer. It is better to cover your skin with clothing or sunscreen. 
  • Use of tanning beds: Tanning beds emit UV rays which impose risk of squamous cell carcinoma of the skin.
  • Previous history of sunburns and lesions: If you had blistering sunburns during your childhood or as a teenager then you are at greater risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma of the skin as an adult. 

Similarly person with history of precancerous skin lesion, such as actinic keratosis or Bowen's disease are also in risk of squamous cell carcinoma of the skin. 

  • Previous history of skin cancer:  Chances of recurrence of squamous cell carcinoma of the skin is high. 
  • Weak immune system: An immunocompromised person has an increased risk of skin cancer. Person with history of leukemia or lymphoma, a person on immunosuppressant medications, those who have undergone organ transplants are at higher risk. 
  • Rare genetic disorder: A physiological condition called xeroderma pigmentosum is an extreme sensitivity of skin to sunlight. People with such sensitivity have a greatly increased risk of developing skin cancer. 

Although uncommon, it is possible that untreated squamous cell carcinoma of the skin can affect surrounding tissue, spread to the lymph nodes or other organs, and can be fatal.

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