Scaly patches and wart-like sores on the skin aren’t just unsightly to look at. They could also indicate serious underlying conditions, such as squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), a type of skin cancer. Learn more about this condition, its symptoms, risks, and even possible treatments.
What is Squamous Cell Carcinoma?
Cancer of the skin can take many forms. One of them is called squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). This is the type of skin cancer that affects the cells nearest the skin’s surface. To understand how this disease works, it’s important to review the composition and structure of the human skin.
Generally, the skin is a complex, multifunctional organ with three (3) layers: the epidermis, the dermis, and the hypodermis. The epidermis is the top layer, serving as armor that shields the body from external elements.
The epidermis itself is composed of several sublayers. The outermost sublayer is what we call the squamous cell layer. This squamous cell layer contains a pile of flattened cells that are put together firmly and form a barrier, creating the thick lining of the skin that protects the tissues underneath. When these cells grow out of control, they develop into a type of skin cancer, called squamous cell carcinoma (SCC).
To date, SCC stands as the second most common type of skin cancer, accounting for approximately 1.8 million diagnoses in the U.S. per year.
What are the symptoms of Squamous Cell Carcinoma?
As discussed earlier, Squamous Cell Carcinoma affects cells nearest the skin’s surface. It often occurs on the parts of the skin that are most exposed to the sun, such as the face, shoulders, hands, and more. However, it can also occur in any part of your body, including the mouth, underneath the feet, and even in the genitals. Naturally, the signs and symptoms of this disease are almost always visible.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, the common symptoms of this type of cancer include:
- Rough, reddish, scaly patch
- Open sore (often with a raised border)
- Brown spot that looks like an age spot
- Firm, dome-shaped growth
- Wart-like growth
- Tiny, rhinoceros-shaped horn growing from your skin
- Sore developing in an old scar
What are the Risk Factors for Squamous Cell Carcinoma?
Generally, squamous cell carcinoma of the skin occurs when the DNA of our skin cells, particularly those in the upper part of the epidermis (called squamous cells), mutate and grow out of control.
To date, scientists have identified many factors that can increase one’s risk of developing Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC). Among these include:
- Unprotected exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, tanning lamps, or tanning beds. Prolonged, unprotected exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light is considered the primary cause of skin cancer. Specifically, UV rays emitted by the sun or tanning beds have been found to cause DNA damage in skin cells, potentially resulting in skin cancer.
- Having fair and whiter skin. All people can acquire SCC, regardless of skin type and color. However, persons with lighter skin tone are more likely to develop SCC than those with darker skin due to less pigmentation that protects the skin from UV radiation.
- History of sunburns. Occurrences of sunburns during childhood and teenage years increase the possibility of acquiring SCC in adulthood.
- Persons aged over 50. A person who lives longer has more exposure to sunlight. Hence, the risk of contracting SCC increases as one ages.
What is the survival rate of squamous cell carcinoma?
Generally, squamous cell carcinoma is a serious condition that may become life-threatening. However, the good news is that it also has a high survival rate, especially when diagnosed and treated early.
In one study, researchers observed a 100% three-year disease-specific survival (DSS) rate for patients diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma with no risk factors and 70% for those with at least one risk factor.
Nevertheless, it is valuable to note that survival rates are only general benchmarks that are not specific enough to indicate chances of survival for every patient. It still depends on different treatments and how the patients’ bodies accept the same. Communicating with your doctor or specialist is still the best option.
What are the treatments available for squamous cell carcinoma?
- Mohs surgery. This type of surgery involves removing one layer of skin tissue at a time. While the patient waits, the doctor shall put a bandage on the wounds and then examine the removed layer using a microscope to assess and map the cancerous cells. The cycle will continue until the last layer removed is already cancer-free.
- Curettage and electrodesiccation. This procedure is used for patients who are not eligible for more invasive surgical treatments. Under this procedure, the specialist will scour the affected surface of the skin using a spoon-shaped instrument called a curette. After the cancerous part is removed, the same area will be cauterized to minimize bleeding and infection.
- Radiation Therapy. Under this procedure, the doctor uses high-doses of radiation to destroy cancer cells or shrink tumors. It may even be used as a post-surgery treatment to ensure the destruction of cancerous cells. However, it may require several sessions of treatments to further see the results.
- Brachytherapy. It is a type of radiation therapy where a radiation source is placed inside the body, either in or near the target tumor. It can be used as a stand-alone treatment or in addition to other available medications.
- Chemotherapy. This procedure is the least utilized in dealing with SCCs because the said illness typically appears in one specific area, which can easily be treated surgically. However, chemotherapy may be the proper recourse if the cancer was already in its late-stage and had spread to other organs, lymph nodes, and other parts of the body. Under this procedure, drugs that can kill cancer cells are injected into the body or taken orally.
Never Ignore the Signs!
Early diagnosis and proper treatment are your best shields against cancer. If you notice signs of squamous cell carcinoma of the skin, consult a doctor right away! This cancer tends to become aggressive and may spread to other parts of your body when left untreated.
Here at Buckeye Dermatology, we specialize in giving professional medical and cosmetic dermatological services that treat skin cancer, acute skin diseases, and chronic skin conditions. Call (602) 754-6075 or visit us at 7301 East 2nd Street Suite 200, Scottsdale, AZ 85251.