Medical & Legal Information on Squamous Cell Carcinoma: Causes & Treatment Options
• Squamous Cell Carcinoma Overview
• Who Is at Risk?
• Common Squamous Cell Carcinoma Symptoms
• Squamous Cell Carcinoma Causes
• Risk Factors
• Diagnosing the Disease
• Treating Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Squamous Cell Carcinoma Overview
Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC) is a cancer of the skin that develops in the bodies squamous cells (the outer and middle layers of the skin). Though the disease is typically non-life-threatening, in some cases, it can be highly aggressive. However, without treatment, squamous cell carcinoma can grow significantly in size and spread (metastasize) to other body areas and cause significant complications.
The disease is usually caused by prolonged exposure to UV (ultraviolet) radiation that could involve tanning beds, tanning lamps or direct and indirect sunlight. Preventing the exposure to UV light can minimize the potential risk of developing the disease and other types of skin cancer.
Who Is at Risk?
Statistics maintained and released by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) reveals that every year, over 5.4 cases involving basal and squamous cell skin cancers are diagnosed affecting approximately 3.3 million Americans (some individuals have multiple occurrences). Of these cases, approximately 80 percent are basal cell cancers. Statistically, the rate of squamous cell cancer development has been increasing over decades, which is probably the result of individuals getting more exposure to the sun, advancements in detecting and identifying skin cancers and increased longevity (men and women living longer).
It is rare that individuals die from basal and squamous cell skin cancers, although approximately 2000 individuals in the United States succumb to the disease every year. Many of these cases resulting in death tend to occur in elders who likely did not receive care from a primary care physician until the disease had progressed significantly.
Common Squamous Cell Carcinoma Symptoms
Squamous cell carcinoma occurs from long-term exposure of the skin to the sun on conspicuous and inconspicuous areas including the back of the hands, on the lips and ears or hidden under the hair on the scalp. The disease can occur on the body anywhere, including on the genitals, on the anus and inside the mouth. The most common signs and symptoms of this disease include:
- A red, firm nodule
- A rough patch or red sore inside the mouth
- Scaly, rough patch of skin on the lip that eventually develops into an open sore
- A flat scaly crusty sore
- A new raised sore appearing on an ulcer or old scar
- A wart-like sore appearing as a raised, red patch on the genitals or in the anus.
A scab or sore that does not heal after months or the development of a flat, scaly patch of skin that refuses to go away is usually an indicator of the disease. Individuals with any of these symptoms should seek out intermediate medical care from a competent primary care doctor and dermatologist.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma Causes
Researchers and doctors understand that squamous cell carcinoma of the skin usually develops because of a mutation in the cell’s DNA. Normally, the development of a new cell will push the dying cell toward the surface of the skin allowing it to die off and slough away. However, mutations in the DNA of the skin disrupt the normal patterns of growing, reproducing and dying off and instead allow the disease to continually grow out of control.
The DNA damage is usually the result of exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from long-term exposure to sunlight or the use of tanning beds and tanning lamps. However, some individuals develop the skin cancer even though they did not expose their skin to sunlight or ultraviolet light producing devices. This is an indication to researchers that there may be other factors that contribute to the development of squamous cell carcinoma. That could include an exposure to toxic substances or a weakening immune system.
There are specific risk factors that have the potential of increasing the development of squamous cell carcinoma of the skin. Some of these risk factors include:
- Excessive Exposure to the Sun – Long-term exposure to ultraviolet light from sun rays can increase the potential of developing squamous cell carcinoma. It is essential to cover the skin with sunblock or clothing to decrease the potential of developing cancer.
- Genetic Fair Skin – Both males and females, regardless of their skin color, can develop squamous cell carcinoma. However, individuals with less melanin (pigment of the skin) have less protection from damage caused by ultraviolet radiation. Additionally, red or blonde hair, light-colored eyes, and freckled individuals tend to sunburns easier and have an increased potential of developing skin cancer than others with darker skin.
- Use of Tanning Beds and Tanning Lamps – Indoor tanning beds and lamps are known to increase the risk of developing skin-associated squamous cell carcinoma.
- A History of Skin Cancer – If any individual has suffered from squamous cell carcinoma in the past, they are more likely to develop it again in the future compared individuals who have never developed the disease.
- A Weakened Immune System – There is a correlation between a weakened immune system and the increased potential of developing skin cancers. Certain immune system-suppressing medications to treat lymphoma and leukemia, especially in individuals who have undergone organ transplants, tend to increase the risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma.
- Precancerous Skin Lesion History – Individuals who have suffered from bones disease or actinic keratosis or other precancerous skin lesion have increased the potential of developing the disease.
- Multiple Sunburns – Repeated blistering sunburns during childhood and teen years can increase the potential risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma later in life. That said, adults who are sunburned also have an increased risk.
- Rare Genetic Disorders – The genetic disorder xeroderma pigmentosum is known to cause extreme sensitivity to sunlight and also increase the potential of developing squamous cell carcinoma.
Diagnosing the Disease
Diagnosticians and doctors looking for indicators of squamous cell carcinoma will perform a battery of tests and procedures that include:
- Physical Examination –Doctors will ask patients various questions about their medical history and conduct a comprehensive examination of the skin to look for any detectable identifiers of squamous cell carcinoma of the skin.
- Biopsy – Doctors will perform a biopsy and remove a small sample of tissue that can be viewed under a microscope. Upon confirmation or verification of a squamous cell carcinoma diagnosis, the primary the physician or dermatologist will cut away the suspicious skin lesion and send it to a laboratory for more comprehensive examination by a pathologist.
Treating Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Usually, the most effective treatment for squamous cell carcinoma is a complete removal of the affected area. This is usually performed as a minor surgical procedure and sometimes destroyed using a topical medication. The ideal treatment for the cancerous area will depend on the patient’s preferences and the tumor’s location, size, and aggressiveness in reproducing more abnormal cells. The doctor has access to a variety of treatments that could include:
- Electrodesiccation and Curettage
- Curettage and Cryotherapy
- Laser Therapy
- Photodynamic Therapy
- Simple Excision
- Medicated Lotion and Creams
- Mohs Surgery
- Radiation Therapy
A patient suffering with squamous cell carcinoma needs to stay out of the sun or wear sunscreen and avoid the use of tanning beds and tanning lamps.