Squamous Cell Skin Cancer

What is Squamous Cell Skin Cancer?

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is the second most common form of skin cancer (basal cell carcinoma is the first). It is a skin cancer of the squamous cells, which reside within the epidermis (the top layer of skin). Excessive UV light exposure appears to be the biggest risk factor in the development of SCC. This includes both light from direct sun and from tanning beds. While melanoma is one of the most dangerous forms of skin cancer, and basal cell is the least aggressive cancer, squamous cell cancer is intermediate in risk between these two. When caught early, SCC is easily dealt with surgically. When present for long periods or in high-risk areas such as the scalp and lip, SCC can be dangerous causing metastases (spread to other areas including internal organs) and even death.

In-Situ SCC (A.K.A. Bowen’s Disease)

Bowen’s Disease represents a very early stage SCC. It is considered “in-situ” because the abnormal cells are contained entirely within the epidermis. SCCIS generally presents as a rough, scaled and red patch on the skin that does not resolve spontaneously with time. While this early stage SCC has a very favorable prognosis, it is important to have it treated to avoid transition into a more invasive type of SCC.

Invasive Squamous Cell Carcinoma

This type of SCC has invaded through the epidermis and into the underlying layer of the skin (the dermis). Invasive SCC skin cancer is largely considered curable and metastasis (spread) to distant organs or lymph nodes is rare. These lesions are generally raised, often tender to the touch, and are enlarging.

Susceptibility To SCC

While SCC can affect anyone, those with fair skin and excessive sun exposure are at greatest risk. SCC can develop anywhere on the body; however, the face, ears, lips, neck, and back of the hands are the most common areas of development due to their increased UV exposure.  Patients who are immunosuppressed due to medications (such as transplant patients) or disease state (such as chronic leukemia or HIV) are at substantially increased risk of squamous cell cancer.

Treatment Options

If it has been determined that you have SCC, you should talk to your dermatologist to determine the best form of eradication. There are several treatment options available and the best choice for you will depend largely on the size and location of the lesion as well as the tumor depth and cell type. SCC can be treated by primary excision, Mohs micrographic surgery, electrodesiccation and curettage (scraping and cautery) for superficial lesions, and sometimes even a chemotherapy cream for very early lesions. You can speak with your provider about your specific type of SCC and the risks, benefits, and chance of recurrence for each treatment options available.