Squamous Cell Carcinoma is the second most common type of skin cancer. They arise from squamous cells which are located towards the top of the outermost layer of the skin (epidermis).
These skin cancers often develop on the head, neck, forearms , hands, and are usually the result of long term ultraviolet (UV) light exposure.
If left untreated, squamous cell carcinoma will continue to grow and develop the potential to spread to the lymph glands and internally to other parts of the body, and could eventually lead to death.
What causes Squamous Cell Carcinoma?
By far the most important cause of Squamous Cell Carcinoma is chronic exposure to sunlight. About 80% of these skin cancers occur in sun exposed areas of the skin.
The remaining may occur in areas which are not usually exposed to sunlight (such as the genitals).
Solariums / tanning beds increases risk of squamous cell carcinoma development by 2.5 times
Other rarer causes include chronic infections or skin inflammation.
Am I at risk of developing Squamous Cell Carcinoma?
Anyone who has had frequent sun exposure can develop Squamous Cell Carcinoma.
These skin cancers usually arise from cumulative sun exposure over time, so outdoor workers who spend long hours in the sun are at very high risk in Australia.
Genetic factors may also increase risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma. People with a fair complexion, light coloured hair and burn easily are particularly prone.
Another high risk group for squamous cell carcinoma development are people with a weakened immune system (such as after a kidney/organ transplant or some cancers of the lymph or blood cells)
What does Squamous Cell Carcinoma look like?
In most cases, they appear as
a pinkish or red scaly patch, or
a raised white crusty lump, which may be painful when pressed
SCCs in West Australians
SCC on forehead
SCC on neck
SCC on forearm
Squamous Cell Carcinoma Treatment
Most Squamous Cell Carcinoma can be cured if detected and treated at an early stage.
If a growth is suspicious for squamous cell carcinoma, the diagnosis can be confirmed with a biopsy. This is where a sample is taken to a specialist laboratory to be examined under a microscope with special stains. The laboratory can confirm the diagnosis of squamous cell carcinoma and may also be able to assess how far it extends into the layers of the skin.
Most Squamous Cell Carcinoma need to be treated with Surgical Excision. However, depending on the depth of the squamous cell carcinoma, some may be able to be treated without extensive surgical treatment.
Early superficial squamous cell carcinoma which does not invade into the deeper layers of the skin can be treated with electrodessication and serial curettage (burn and scoop) or topical agents (creams).
What happens if a Squamous Cell Carcinoma is not treated?
If left untreated, squamous cell carcinoma will continue to grow into into the deeper parts of the skin and underlying tissues. If left untreated they can grow into blood vessels and lymphatics and therefore spread to other organs.
Advanced Squamous Cell Carcinoma occurring on the nose, lip and ears, usually require large reconstructive surgery and may lead to loss of these body parts.
These are also areas where squamous cell carcinoma have a higher risk of spreading internally to other parts of the body (metastasize). Some of these cases could eventually become fatal.
In 2007, there were 448 reported deaths from non-melanoma skin cancer in Australia, and a majority of these were from Squamous Cell Carcinomas.