Today we look at squamous cell carcinoma, the second most common form of nonmelanoma skin cancer, after basal cell carcinoma. While not an issue if detected and treated early, ignoring squamous cell carcinoma can lead to metastasis to other parts of the body that can cause serious issues. Squamous cell carcinomas, like many other skin conditions, are cause by an overexposure to UV radiation from the sun. These tumors can appear on any part of the body that receives sun exposure, even within the mouth.
Our skin is composed of three layers, the epidermis (topmost layer), the dermis, and the subcutis. The squamous cells are located just below the outer surface (the epidermis) of your skin. Squamous cell carcinoma generally occurs when UV radiation causes mutations in the cell that prevent normal cell growth and generation. However, squamous cell carcinoma can also occur from exposure to therapeutic radation, chemical toxins (such as arsenic), HPV and certain immunosuppressant drugs.
While the appearance of squamous cell carcinomas can vary, there are some common symptoms. These lesions may appear as firm, red nodules or flat lesions with a scaly crust on the face, ears, neck and appendages (1). Lesions may also appear as “new ulcerations or raised areas on pre-existing scars or ulcers”(1).
Squamous cell carcinoma is difficult to spot because it is slow growing and may appear in regions with pre-existing skin conditions, or resemble other skin disorders. Similarities in appearance with actinic keratoses make diagnosis more difficult.
Treatment of squamous cell carcinoma depends on the severity of the tumor. For small carcinomas, freezing and laser therapy are viable options. Freezing is not recommended for tumors on the nose, ears, or eyelids, but for other tumors, may produce the least surrounding damage. Tumors can be excised, but this may lead to scarring and damage of surrounding tissue. For very large tumors on the areas that are difficult to excise, radiation therapy can work very well, but may also cause damage to surrounding tissue, such as irritation. Chemotherapy is useful for superficial tumors, but this can cause scarring and inflammation on the surface in addition to allergic affects to chemotherapy.
Perhaps the most effect treatment is Mohs surgery, where the tumor is removed layer by layer, with each layer being examined under a microscope, preventing damage to healthy skin. If you notice an abnormal growth on your skin, you should contact your dermatologist. It might not be a serious condition, but it is important to take care of your skin.