Squamous Cell Carcinomas (SCCs) are the second most common form of skin cancer. SCCs typically occurs in fair-skinned individuals with a long history of sun exposure. They tend to develop on sun-exposed areas of the skin, especially the face and backs of hands. However, it is possible to develop SCCs on any part of the body, including the lips and mouth.

With early diagnoses and treatment, SCCs are highly curable. Rarely, SCCs can become invasive and spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body.

Actinic Keratoses

Signs and Symptoms of Squamous Cell Carcinomas

SCCs may appear as a small, scaling, rough, pink to red growth on the skin. With time, SCCs tend to become larger and deeper and can ultimately ulcerate, bleed, or crust over.

Early SCCs are usually asymptomatic, but larger lesions may be tender.

Causes of SCCs

Most SCCs are caused by ultraviolet (UV) radiation from sunlight and tanning bed. Other potential causes include:

  • Cancer-causing agents, such as tobacco use, insecticides, contaminated water supplies with arsenic, etc.,
  • Serious burns,
  • Ulcers or sores on the skin, and/or
  • Certain types of the human papillomavirus (HPV).

Some SCCs may begin as pre-cancerous lesions known as actinic keratoses. See Actinic Keratoses for more info.

Self-Care for SCCs

Prevention is key! Sun protection can help reduce the development of SCCs.

  • Use sunscreen on all exposed skin before going outdoors. Be sure the sunscreen has broad spectrum coverage which blocks both UVA and UVB light, with an SPF of at least 30 or more. Remember to reapply every 2 hours and immediately after swimming or sweating.
  • Avoid sun exposure during peak hours (from 10 am to 3 pm).
  • Cover up. Wear a broad-brimmed hat and tightly-woven clothing that protects your arms and legs.
  • Avoid tanning bed use.
  • Perform self-skin exams monthly. Monitor your skin lesions for any changes in size, shape, color, and/or skin symptoms (such as, itching, bleeding, or pain).

Squamous Cell Carcinoma Treatment

If a skin lesion is concerning for a SCC, a skin biopsy will first be performed to establish a correct diagnosis. A skin biopsy consists of removing a small sample of skin. Then, this skin sample is subsequently examined under the microscope to determine the diagnosis.

There are several possible treatment options for SCCs, including:

  • Surgical Excision – This involves cutting out any residual skin cancer as well as some healthy tissue around the skin cancer.
  • Curettage and electrodessication – This is a two-step treatment that consists of 1) scraping away the skin cancer, and 2) destroying any remaining cancer cells with an electrical current.
  • Mohs surgery – Named for the doctor who developed this surgery, Mohs surgery is a specialized surgical technique that offers the highest cure rate for difficult-to-treat BCCs. See Mohs Surgery for more info.
  • Cryosurgery – This uses liquid nitrogen to destroy the cancer cells.
  • Radiation – This treatment is reserved for SCCs that cannot be cut out or patients who are not good surgical candidates.

If you are interested in learning more about treatment options for your Squamous Cell Carcinoma, please call Heller Dermatology & Aesthetic Surgery to schedule your appointment!