With flowers in bloom and the sun climbing higher in the sky, May marks the time of year for returning to yard work, outdoor sports, and fun in the sun.
You may be ready to shed those extra layers and bare some skin. But warmer weather also brings an increased risk of UV radiation exposure, a leading cause of skin cancer. May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month and a great time to boost your skin cancer knowledge and rethink your skin cancer prevention.
Melanoma – the deadliest type of skin cancer – is usually the first skin cancer that comes to mind. But there are other non-melanoma types that shouldn’t be ignored. Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) often presents as a growth on your ear, lip, or nose but can develop anywhere on your body. It is a common form of skin cancer that’s less aggressive than melanoma. The best prevention is limiting your sun exposure and practicing good sun and skincare habits.
Squamous cell carcinoma treatment has a good outcome, especially if detected early. You should contact your dermatologist at the first sign of an unusual growth or lesion. There are several treatment options, including topical therapies, destruction, excision, and Mohs surgery.
What is squamous cell carcinoma?
Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is one of two very common types of non-melanoma skin cancers. The other is basal cell carcinoma.
Squamous cell carcinoma
- Develops from precancerous lesions called actinic keratoses (AK)
- Develops in the squamous cells that make up the middle and outer layers of the epidermal layer of the skin
- Growth often occurs on sun-exposed skin, including scalp, hands, ears, and lips
- Usually, not life-threatening, but can become more aggressive
- Grows slowly
- Can grow into deeper structures like nerves and blood vessels
Causes of squamous cell carcinoma
If you love soaking up the sun, listen up. The main cause of squamous cell carcinoma is prolonged exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, either from sunlight or tanning beds or lamps.
Other risk factors include:
- The older you are, the higher your risk is.
- Fair complexion. Less pigment (melanin) in your skin provides less protection from damaging UV
- Having a condition that weakens your immune system, such as leukemia, lymphoma, or other chronic immune disorders, can increase risk.
- Use of tanning beds.
- History of precancerous lesions.
- Genetic disorders, especially those that cause sunlight sensitivity
Signs of squamous cell carcinoma
Skin cancer starts to develop when squamous cells develop changes (mutations) in their DNA, causing the squamous cells to grow out of control. Researchers have linked many of the DNA mutations in skin cells to ultraviolet (UV) radiation.
A squamous cell carcinoma may start as a nonhealing spot or as a wart-like growth. Be on the lookout for any unusual bump or sore on your scalp, the backs of your hands, around your ears or lips, and even inside your mouth or the bottoms of your feet. Other signs and symptoms include:
- Warty growths or spots that persist or bleed unprovoked
- Rough, scaly patches or open sores on your lip
- Flat sores that are scaly or crusty
- Firm, red nodules on ears or the nose
- New sores or a raised area on a previous scar
- Red, raised patches or wart-like growth around the anus or genital area
If left untreated, squamous cell carcinoma can spread to nearby healthy tissue, lymph nodes, or other organs. Squamous cell carcinoma may behave more aggressively if:
- The growth is large or thick
- It involves the mucous membranes, such as the lips
- You already have a weakened immune system,
Squamous cell carcinoma prevention
Avoiding excessive UV light is the best way to reduce your risk of squamous cell carcinoma and other types of skin cancer.
- Wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen that’s waterproof with SPF 30 or higher year-round.
- Limit exposure or avoid the sun during peak times, typically 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., even in winter or on cloudy days.
- Avoid tanning beds.
- Reapply when you’re out in the sun for prolonged periods or if you exercise or work outdoors.
- Pack a broad-brimmed hat, sunglasses, lip balm, and bathing suit cover-up if you’re planning a beach day.
- Wear lightweight, SPF protective clothing if you’re hiking, fishing, gardening, or planning prolonged outdoor activities.
- Check your entire body for unusual growths or sores that won’t heal, changes to moles and freckles, or unusual dark spots or sunspots.
- See a health care provider for a skin check once per year.
Squamous cell carcinoma treatment
Although squamous cell carcinoma is less aggressive than melanoma, you shouldn’t put off getting it checked out. Contact your dermatologist if you have a sore or growth that won’t heal after a couple of months. You should also report any spots, rashes, or scaly skin that won’t go away or spread to other areas.
- If the growth is identified as squamous cell carcinoma, don’t panic. It is rarely fatal, usually slow-growing, and very treatable.
- Talk to your dermatologist about treatment options for your given cancer and health status.
- The type of treatment depends on the size and thickness of cancer, location, desired recovery time, age, and overall health.
- Partner with your dermatologist to decide on the best course of treatment.
- Get treatment underway as soon as possible after diagnosis to prevent further spread.
There are several squamous cell carcinoma treatment options. Many treatments work best on superficial tumors, which is why it is best to seek immediate treatment.
Topical chemotherapy: Involves applying a topical cream like 5-Fluorouracil to the affected area. This may be used to treat superficial SCCs with minimal risk of scarring and preventatively for actinic keratoses.
Electrodessication and Curettage (ED&C):. Curettage involves “scraping” the skin cancer cells away. Electrodessication uses an electrical current to destroy the cancerous tissue. Multiple passes may be needed, and it is recommended for small, superficial, or minimally invasive SCCs. Off the face.
Excision: Surgical removal of the cancerous tissue or tumor along with a “safety margin” of surrounding normal tissue. The skin is anesthetized, and then the lesion is removed. Effective for small, early SCCs that have not spread.
Mohs surgery: Using state-of-the-art technology, this procedure targets the spot where you had your biopsy. Surgeons use a microscope to trace around the tumor or growth and ensure removal down to its roots. If residual cancer cells remain, more tissue is removed and processed in the same way until there is no evidence of cancer. The wound is then sutured closed.
While there are several treatment options, Mohs surgery is considered the most effective technique for SCCs with a high success rate. Mohs can be used for larger, more invasive SCCs located on delicate areas of the body, those that have recurred, and tumors that are growing rapidly or have indistinct edges. The procedure is also recommended for SCCs located in small, highly visible areas around the eyes, nose, lips, and ears.
Remember, early detection and treatment offer the best prognosis. If left untreated, a squamous cell carcinoma can grow larger or become more aggressive and spread to other parts of your body.