January is the traditional time of year when many of us make New Year’s resolutions…
Skin cancers like squamous cell carcinoma are the most common form of cancer – and the most preventable. If caught in time and treated, the majority of cases are not life threatening.
But it’s important to know what to look for and what to do if you find signs of skin cancer on your body or that of a loved one.
In this four-part Skin Cancer Primer provided by Price Skin Care Clinic of Ridgeland, Mississippi, we will cover four of the most common types of skin cancer: actinic keratosis, basal cell skin cancer, squamous and melanoma.
We’ll teach you about each cancer’s:
• Warning Signs
• Risk factors
Part III: Squamous Cell Carcinoma
What Is Squamous Cell Carcinoma?
Squamous cell carcinoma is an uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells coming from the squamous cells, which compose most of the skin’s upper layers (the epidermis).
It is the second most common form of skin cancer and primarily caused by a lifetime of exposure to the damaging ultraviolet rays of the sun and tanning beds.
More than 1 million cases of squamous cell carcinoma are diagnosed each year in the United States, with as many as 8,800 cases terminal. Alarmingly, the disease has increased by 200 percent in the past 30 years in this country alone.
If not caught in time, squamous cell carcinoma can disfigure and even lead to death.
The cancer often presents as:
• Scaly red patches
• Open sores
• Elevated growths with a central depression
• Affected areas may crust or bleed.
Squamous cell carcinomas can appear on any area of the body but are most common in areas that receive the greatest amount of exposure to the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays.
Those areas include:
• The rim of the ear
• Lower lip
• Balding scalp
Those most at risk include people who:
• Have been overexposed to the sun (particularly men)
• Have fair complexions and light skin
• Have blonde or red hair
• Have blue, green or grey eyes
• Are 50 years of age or older (although diagnoses are increasing for those in the 20’s and 30’s)
• Have been exposed to harmful ultraviolet rays of tanning beds. (In fact, the incidence of women under age 40 who have been affected has increased over the last 30 years.)
• Have had a relative who has had SCC
• Have jobs that require them to work outdoors
• Basal cell carcinoma patients
• Those with an inherited highly UV-sensitive condition such as xeroderma pigmentosum.
• Chronic infections and skin inflammation
• HIV and other immune deficiency diseases, chemotherapy, anti-rejection drugs used in organ transplantation, weaken the immune system and increasing the risk. (Organ transplant recipients are up to 250 times more likely than the general population to develop SCC.)
• Inherit a genetic predisposition to squamous cell carcinoma.
Like most skin cancers, the good news is that squamous cell carcinomas diagnosed in an early stage and removed quickly are usually curable and cause a minimum of damage.
But if left untreated, they will penetrate the tissue beneath and possibly cause disfigurement. While rare, some can even spread to local lymph nodes, tissues and organs and increase risk of fatality.
Therefore, if you find a suspicious growth, you should see your physician at once. He or she will take a tissue sample and have it analyzed. If squamous cell carcinoma cells are present, treatment is required.
Your physician will recommend one of several effective treatment methods for squamous cell carcinoma based on the tumor’s type, size, location, and depth of penetration, as well as the patient’s age and general health.
The treatment will likely be performed on an outpatient basis in your doctor’s office with a local anesthetic.
Treatment options include:
• Mohs Micrographic Surgery
• Excisional Surgery
• Curettage and electrodessication
• Photodynamic therapy
• Laser surgery
• Topical medications
It’s important to note that once you’ve had a squamous cell tumor, you are at increased risk for recurrence. If it is going to recur, it will likely do so within two years and unfortunately, can recur in the same area of the initial tumor.
Therefore, it is critical to watch the treated site and see your physician should the skin’s appearance change. Regularly scheduled follow-up visits to your doctor – including total body skin examinations are an important part of post-treatment care.
Of course, prevention is always the best cure so make sure you abide by these safety rules when going out in the sun.
Tips for protecting yourself from the sun’s harmful rays:
• Avoid the sun’s peak hours between 10AM-4PM.
• Wear proper clothes and headgear
• Wear sunscreen with a SPF of 15 or higher. For extended outdoor activity, use a water-resistant, broad-spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
• Don’t let yourself burn
• Avoid sun tanning, UV tanning booths and ‘sunburn art’.
• Take extra care around water, snow, ice, sand and high altitudes as the sun’s ultraviolet rays are stronger in high altitudes.
In addition you should perform a self-examination from head-to-toe every month. and see your physician annually for a professional skin exam.