Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is a type of skin cancer affecting the epidermis’s squamous cells, the skin’s outermost layer. It is the second most common form of skin cancer, and its incidence has increased in recent decades. SCCs can take different conditions, such as scaly red patches, open sores, warts, and nodules, and are most commonly found on areas of the body that are frequently exposed to the sun, such as the face, ears, and hands.
Most SCCs are curable if caught early, but larger and deeper tumours can be more dangerous and disfiguring. SCCs are caused by long-term exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. They are diagnosed with a biopsy, and treatment options include topical treatment, surgery, and radiotherapy. Talking to a doctor about the best treatment options and being aware of any treatment’s potential risks and side effects is essential.
Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is the second most common form of skin cancer. This cancer is an uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells arising from the squamous cells in the epidermis, the skin’s outermost layer. It is sometimes called cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma (CSCC) to differentiate it from very different kinds of SCCs elsewhere in the body (e.g. lung). Cutaneous is the scientific word for “related to or affecting the skin.”
More than 1 million cases of squamous cell carcinoma are diagnosed each year. Incidence has increased significantly in the past three decades.
What do SCCs look like?
SCCs can appear in different forms:
- Scaly red patches
- Open sores that don’t heal
- Warts that grow in size
- Recurrent scabbing or crusting
- Wet, fungating growth that oozes and bleeds
- Nodules that proliferate or elevate changes with a central depression
SCCs may occur on all areas of the body, including the mucous membranes and genitals, but are most common in areas frequently exposed to the sun, such as the rim of the ear, lower lip, face, balding scalp, neck, hands, arms and legs. The skin in these areas often reveals telltale signs of sun damage, including wrinkles, pigment changes, freckles, “age spots,” loss of elasticity and broken blood vessels.
Are SCC’s dangerous?
Most squamous cell carcinomas are curable if caught early and cause minimal damage. However, the larger and deeper a tumour grows, the more dangerous and potentially disfiguring it may become and the more extensive the treatment must be. SCCs can be classified according to their pathological grades. The most common form is SCC-in-situ, Bowen’s Disease or Intraepidermal Carcinoma (IEC). These are SCCs on the very surface of the skin, which have not yet developed the potential to invade or spread. Invasive SCCs are divided into three grades: well-differentiated, moderately-differentiated and poorly-differentiated in the order of least aggressive to the most aggressive. Poorly-differentiated SCC’s are known to proliferate, metastasise and can be highly recurrent. If left untreated, SCCs may spread (metastasise) to local lymph nodes, distant tissues and organs and become life-threatening. Treatment of metastatic SCC often includes extensive surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy.
What is SCCs caused by?
Cumulative, long-term exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun over your lifetime causes most SCCs. Daily year-round sun exposure, intense exposure in the summer or on sunny vacations and the UV produced by indoor tanning devices all add to the damage that can lead to SCC. In addition, experts believe that indoor tanning is contributing to an increase in cases among young women, who tend to use tanning beds more than others do.
How are SCC s diagnosed?
SCCs are diagnosed with a biopsy (a tissue sample from the lesion), which is examined under a microscope by a pathologist. Often, the subtype/grade of the SCC can be determined with the biopsy sample.
What are the treatments available for SCCs?
Fortunately, there are several effective ways to eradicate squamous cell carcinoma. Treatment recommendation is based on the tumour’s type, size, location and depth of penetration, and the patient’s age and general health. IECs can generally be treated with topical treatment or minor surgery. However, invasive SCCs often require surgery, with or without adjuvant radiotherapy.
Talk to your doctor about your best options for treatment.