Protect Your Skin: Squamous Cell Carcinoma Explained

May 8, 2024

squamous cell carcinoma exam by a dermatologist

When people hear the words ‘skin cancer,’ they often think that it’s all one thing, but there are numerous forms of skin cancer with their own unique symptoms, risk factors, and treatment options. The Skin Cancer Foundation reports that squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common form of skin cancer, with 1.8 million cases diagnosed each year in the U.S. According to Dr. Daniel Condie of U.S. Dermatology Partners in Plano, Grapevine, and Sherman, Texas, “Because squamous cell carcinoma is so common, it’s important to me that my patients know what it looks like and how to check for it at home. The sooner they contact their dermatologist after noticing a potentially cancerous lesion, the better, so I’m dedicated to helping increase awareness about squamous cell carcinoma signs and symptoms.” In this blog, Dr. Condie outlines what squamous cell carcinoma is, its side effects and symptoms, risk factors, treatments, and more.

What is Squamous Cell Carcinoma?

Squamous cell carcinoma, or SCC, is a common form of skin cancer that develops in the squamous cells within the outer layers of the skin. In most cases, SCC is not life-threatening. However, it can spread to other areas of the skin, lymph nodes, and throughout the body when left untreated. Like most skin cancers, SCC most often develops on areas of the skin that are frequently exposed to the sun.

Understanding the Signs & Symptoms

According to Dr. Condie, “Any changes in the color, shape, texture, size, or other aspects of your skin can be a warning that something is not right. Unfortunately, SCC can be difficult to recognize because it can look very different from one person to the next. Talk to your dermatologist about any changes or irregularities you see.” Some of the signs and symptoms of SCC can include:

  • A rough patch of skin is often one of the earliest warning signs of SCC. In light skin tones, the patches are often red-colored. In darker skin tones, the coloring can vary, but it is typically red, purple, gray, or brown.
  • A raised round growth or a growth with raised borders is another common way that SCC develops. This is especially common for SCC which develops on the head, neck, and other areas that receive regular sun exposure.
  • Dark spots on the skin, often called age spots or sunspots, may also be warning signs of SCC. For this reason, it’s important to allow your dermatologist to examine new or changing spots on the skin.
  • Sores that don’t heal are common symptoms of SCC. If you have a sore that doesn’t heal or that heals and returns frequently, this may be a warning sign of SCC.
  • In some cases, SCC causes a protruding, horn-like growth to develop. This form of SCC tends to grow very quickly.

Key Risk Factors for SCC

Like most other types of skin cancer, SCC is most often caused by exposure to the sun’s UVA and UVB rays. Common risk factors for SCC include:

  • Frequent or prolonged sun exposure, especially if you have frequently experienced sunburn.
  • Using tanning beds.
  • Having pale skin.
  • Having a personal or familial history of skin cancer.
  • Those who have a weakened immune system or who are receiving immune-suppressing medications or treatments.

Effective Prevention Strategies

When it comes to preventing SCC, Dr. Condie says, “It’s essential to protect skin from potential damage. While we can’t completely avoid skin cancer, there are many simple steps we can take to reduce risk and improve overall skin health.” Some of Dr. Condie’s recommendations for how to prevent squamous cell carcinoma include:

  • Apply sunscreen to all areas of skin that are exposed to the sun daily.
  • Reduce the amount of time spent in sunlight.
  • Avoid tanning beds.
  • Cover skin with protective clothing, hats, gloves, or umbrellas when outdoors.
  • Seek shade or take breaks from the sun regularly.
  • Perform a thorough skin cancer self-exam every month.
  • Visit a dermatologist for an annual skin exam.

Early Detection & Diagnosis: What to Know

The most important aspect of skin cancer diagnosis is ensuring treatment is provided as soon as possible. To ensure early diagnosis and treatment, Dr. Condie recommends, “You should be performing monthly skin cancer self-exams. When you notice any changes to your skin, it’s important to contact a dermatologist right away because early detection and diagnosis increase the efficacy of skin cancer treatment. Your dermatologist will examine your skin carefully and may perform a biopsy to offer an accurate diagnosis. Many people hesitate to contact a dermatologist when they notice skin changes. They assume the changes are nothing, but even if the change in your skin turns out to be something less concerning, it’s always best to know for sure. Plus, your dermatologist can help you address any other concerns with your skin health or appearance.”

Treatment Options for Squamous Cell Carcinoma

There are numerous options for SCC treatment, including:

  • Mohs Surgery – This is the preferred method of skin cancer removal in many cases, especially for cancers involving the head, neck, hands, and other high-risk areas. It involves carefully slicing away layers of potentially cancerous lesions and healthy surrounding skin. As the layers are removed, they’re examined under a microscope. Additional layers are removed only as needed until no more cancer cells are present.
  • Cryotherapy – Extreme cold is applied to freeze cancer cells while minimizing damage to healthy skin.
  • Curettage – Uses a sharp instrument to scrape away cancer cells.
  • Surgical Excision – Cutting away the cancerous tissue and some healthy surrounding tissue to ensure all cancer cells are removed, reducing the risk for cancer to spread.
  • Radiation therapy – This option is considered a second-line option for patients who are not surgical candidates.

Finding the Right Skin Cancer Specialist

If you’ve noticed a concerning spot or a physician believes a spot may be cancerous, it’s time to find the right dermatologist. According to Dr. Condie, “All dermatologists should understand the basics of skin cancer diagnosis and treatment. If you’re concerned about a specific lesion or you are at high risk for skin cancer, you may want to look for a dermatologist who makes skin cancer a primary focus of their practice. You can find out about a dermatologist’s specializations and experience in a few different ways. It’s easy to find information about most dermatologists on their websites, or you can read reviews from other patients.”

Protect Your Skin, Prevent SCC: Final Thoughts

In conclusion, Dr. Condie says, “SCC, like other forms of skin cancer, is a highly preventable condition. With improved sun protection, decreased time exposed to UV rays, and regular skin self-exams and professional screenings, you will significantly reduce risk for developing SCC and other forms of skin cancer.”

Schedule an Annual Skin Cancer Screening

Whether you’ve noticed a concerning spot on your skin or you want to make sure you haven’t missed anything, it may be time to schedule an annual skin examination and skin cancer screening at U.S. Dermatology Partners. These appointments are an essential element in your skincare routine. If you’re ready to get started, simply take a few moments to complete our online scheduling request form. Once we receive your information, a local team member will be in touch to finalize the details of your visit.

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