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Squamous Cell Carcinoma: What are the Warning Signs?

Skin, our largest organ, protects us from all sorts of environmental harm – but what’s protecting it? Clothing and sunscreen can provide an extra barrier, but our skin is ultimately more exposed to the elements than any other part of our body. It may come as no surprise, then, that skin cancer is by far the most common type of cancer found in humans, affecting about 1 in 5 Americans during their lifetimes.

There are three main types of skin cancer: melanoma, basal cell carcinoma (BCC), and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). The latter, SCC, is the second most common type of skin cancer, right behind melanoma. SCC can usually be cured when detected in its early stages, so it’s important to understand what causes SCC as well as the signs that indicate SCC on your skin.

What Causes Squamous Cell Carcinoma?

The root of any type of cancer has to do with sudden mutations in the DNA of cells. Skin cancer occurs when skin cells become mutated in some way, growing abnormally and rapidly. As for squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), these mutations happen specifically to squamous cells, which are cells that rest on the upper layers of the skin. Prolonged exposure to the sun’s rays, (or other forms of UV radiation like tanning booths) can cause cells to mutate, leading to SCC. Of course, squamous cells can become damaged in other ways, typically as a result of a weak or malfunctioning immune system.

Who is at Risk for Squamous Cell Carcinoma?

Anyone can develop SCC, but it is more common among those with fair skin, weakened immune systems, and a family history of skin cancer. Spending too much time in the sun or in tanning beds also increases one’s likelihood of developing SCC, BCC, or melanoma. Other skin cancer risk factors include having a prior personal history of SCC, BCC, melanoma, or even precancerous skin conditions such as actinic keratosis.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma Warning Signs

Properly treating and curing squamous cell carcinoma largely depends on identifying its presence early on. Unlike other forms of cancer that reside mainly inside the body, early signs of skin cancer are usually easier to detect as they’re often visibly apparent. Of course, if you want to keep tabs on your skin’s health, it helps to know what the SCC warning signs are. Squamous cell skin carcinoma symptoms and signs include:

  • A red, bumpy patch on the skin
  • A rough lesion inside or near your mouth and lips
  • Scaly, flat sores
  • New sores on or near a scar, mole, ulcer, etc.
  • Red sores that look like warts near the genital or anal region
  • Sores that return or fail to heal

Of course, any of the above SCC signs and symptoms don’t necessarily point to skin cancer or SCC, as several skin conditions present similar visible symptoms. That said, if any of these sores won’t go away, or you’re simply concerned about your skin’s health, you should see a doctor or dermatologist to receive a proper diagnosis. If it turns out that those warning signs were indeed pointing to SCC, you’ll be glad that you got it checked out early on.

Treating Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Receiving a skin cancer diagnosis can be scary. But, as previously mentioned, most types of skin cancer can be treated and completely cured with the proper methods. Depending on the size and severity of your SCC, doctors may recommend different medical or surgical options. For instance, smaller skin cancers can typically be removed via curettage and electrodesiccation (C and E), wherein the surface of the cancer is scraped away and the root is burned away with a powered needle. Dermatologists may also employ laser therapy to dissolve small tumors, or cryosurgery (freezing with liquid nitrogen) to halt the growth of cancerous cells.

Larger cases of SCC might require more advanced surgical options. Mohs micrographic surgery is a highly successful skin cancer treatment that involves the removal of thin layers of affected tissue until the base of the tumor can be extracted. Some SCCs can be removed via simple excision. And in more complex cases, radiation therapy might be used to kill cancer cells and/or ensure that the skin cancer doesn’t return.

For the most part, squamous cell carcinoma (and skin cancer more broadly) is highly preventable. Knowing how to avoid, detect, and treat SCC will arm you with the peace of mind and confidence to enjoy your time outdoors and protect your skin while doing it. If you’re looking for more information and advice regarding skin cancer and SCC, Premier Dermatology Partners has the resources and experts you need. To learn more about our team and all the services we provide, contact us.

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