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, bald scalp, neck, hands, arms and legs.
A small percentage - estimates run from 2 to almost 10 percent - spread (metastasize) to distant tissues and organs. When this happens, squamous cell carcinomas frequently can be life-threatening.
Causes and Risk Factors
Who Gets It
People who have fair skin, light hair, and blue, green, or gray eyes are at highest risk of developing the disease. But anyone with a history of substantial sun exposure and tanning bed is at increased risk.
This form of actinic keratosis occurs most often on the lower lip, causing it to become dry, cracked, scaly and pale or white. Why the lower lip? Because it receives more sun exposure than the upper lip. If not treated promptly, actinic cheilitis can lead to squamous cell carcinoma on the lip.
What to Look For
Squamous cell carcinomas typically appear as a persistent thick, rough, scaly patch that can bleed if bumped. They often look like warts and sometimes appear as open sores with a raised, irregular border and a crusted surface over an elevated pebbly base.
PREVENTING SKIN CANCER
While squamous cell carcinomas and other skin cancers are almost always curable when detected and treated early, it is best to prevent them in the first place. Make these sun safety habits part of your daily health care routine:
Seek the shade, especially between 10 AM and 4 PM.
Do not burn.
Avoid tanning and UV tanning booths.
Cover up with clothing, including a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.
Use a broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day. For extended outdoor activity, use a water-resistant, broad spectrum (UVA/UVB)sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
Keep newborns out of the sun. Sunscreens should be used on babies over the age of six months.
Examine your skin head-to-toe every month.
See your physician every year for a professional skin exam.
Squamous cell carcinomas detected at an early stage and removed promptly are almost always curable and cause minimal damage. However, left untreated, they eventually penetrate the underlying tissues and can become disfiguring and metastasize. A tissue sample (biopsy) will be examined under a microscope to arrive at a diagnosis. If tumor cells are present, surgery is required.
The physician uses a scalpel to remove the entire growth, along with a surrounding border of apparently normal skin as a safety margin. The wound around the surgical site is then closed with sutures (stitches). The excised tissue is then sent to the laboratory for microscopic examination to verify that all cancerous cells have been removed. The accepted cure rate for primary tumors with this technique is about 92 percent. This rate drops to 77 percent for recurrent squamous cell carcinomas.
X-ray beams are directed at the tumor, with no need for cutting or anesthesia. Destruction of the tumor usually requires a series of treatments, administered several times a week for one to four weeks, or sometimes daily for onemonth. Cure rates range widely, from about 85 to 95 percent, and the technique can involve long-term cosmetic problems and radiation risks, as well as multiple visits. For these reasons, this therapy is mainly used for tumors that are hard to treat surgically, as well as patients for whom surgery is not advised, such as the elderly or those in poor health.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC)
A wart-like growth that crusts and occasionally bleeds.
An open sore that bleeds and crusts and persists for weeks.
An elevated growth with a central depression that occasionally bleeds. A growth of this type may rapidly increase in size.
A persistent, scaly red patch with irregular borders that sometimes crusts or bleeds.