Squamous Cell Carcinoma: Who’s Susceptible and How It’s Treated

Your age, history, and occupation may put you at a higher risk of being diagnosed with a form of skin cancer known as squamous cell carcinoma.

squamous cell carcinoma

Non-Hispanic white patients with HIV and a history of nonmelanoma skin cancer had a higher risk for subsequent new primary squamous cell carcinoma, according to a study published in JAMA Dermatology.

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The Rochester (MN) Epidemiology Project showed that diagnoses of squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) in the U.S. increased by 263 percent from the first recording period 30 years ago to the most recent decade recorded, 2000-2010. More than one million cases are reported each year.

Who is Susceptible?

Middle-aged and older adults are more susceptible to squamous cell carcinoma, probably because of accumulated exposure to the sun over a period of time. Other risk factors are a fair complexion, frequent exposure to the sun, a history of working in the sun, early childhood overexposure to the sun, artificial tans from tanning beds, and living in an area of high-intensity sunlight. People in the southern part of the United States have almost twice the risk of developing squamous cell cancer as those in the northern states.

The risk is greater if you have light-colored hair and blue, green, or gray eyes. Exposure to radiation, arsenic, and other chemicals increases the risk. Finally, you are more susceptible to squamous cell cancer if you have had any previous type of skin cancer, or if you have a weakened immune system as a result of disease or chemotherapy.

Hispanics, Asians, and African-Americans are much less likely than Caucasians to develop squamous cell cancer. However, more than two-thirds of all skin cancers that affect people with darker skin are squamous cell cancer.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma: By the Numbers

  • 2 SCC is the second most common form of skin cancer
  • 3 SCC is three times as common in men as in women
  • 20 The percentage of non-melanoma skin cancer that is SCC
  • 95 The percentage of SCC cases cured with early detection and treatment
  • 1,000,000 The number of new SCC cases diagnosed each year in the U.S.

Warning Signs

The cancer appears as a rough, scaly bump that grows, and the surface of the lesion (damaged tissue) and also may have a flat, reddish patch. It usually occurs on the face, ears, neck, hands, or arms, but can develop elsewhere. Here are four warning signs of squamous cell cancer:

  1. A sore that does not heal
  2. A change in a mole or wart
  3. A rough, scaly, reddish bump that appears to be growing
  4. Pain in a skin lesion

Patients who have had multiple cutaneous SCC, compared with those who have had one episode, are at a particularly high risk of recurrence and metastasis, according to a study in JAMA Dermatology. Also, the thicker a skin cancer lesion, the more likely it is to spread, and squamous cell cancer on or near the ears are four times more likely to spread than those elsewhere on the body. The cancer appears as a rough, scaly bump that grows, and the surface of the lesion also may have a flat, reddish patch of skin.

Diagnosing It

SCCs are diagnosed by a biopsy conducted in a dermatologist’s office. The tissue is sent to a pathologist to determine whether or not cancer cells are present.

Treating It

If the entire lesion is removed as part of the biopsy, the primary treatment is over. If further treatment is necessary, your options include surgery, laser surgery, cryosurgery, radiation therapy, and electrodessication and curettage (scraping and cauterizing the tumor).

Anyone who has had squamous cell carcinoma, or any other type of skin cancer, should have frequent follow-up appointments, and every adult should have an annual skin examination by a physician or dermatologist. A person who has had one skin tumor has a 40 percent risk of developing a new lesion within two years, and all tumors are not evident to the patient.

The Skin Cancer Foundation says that SCCs are usually limited to the epidermis for an extended period of time. If the tumor gets larger, more extensive the treatment needed. It eventually penetrates underlying tissues, which can lead to disfigurement. A small percentage of SCCs spread to other parts of the body.

Preventing Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Avoid sun exposure, and protect your skin by wearing clothes that cover the arms, legs, face, neck, and ears. Wear SPF 30 to 50 sunscreen on all exposed skin, and stay away from tanning beds. A study of more than 9,000 patients found that people who use tanning beds have a 67 percent increased risk of non-melanoma cancer, including both SCC and BCC.

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Jim Brown, PhD

As a former college professor of health education, Jim Brown brings a unique perspective to health and medical writing. He has authored 14 books on health, medicine, fitness, and sports. … Read More

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