Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Squamous cell carcinomas (SCC) account for about 2 out of 10 skin cancers. It is very common in the United States where approximately 700,000 new cases are diagnosed each year. Squamous cell carcinomas tend to develop on skin that has been exposed to the sun for years, so it is frequently found on exposed areas, such as the head, neck, arms and back of hands. Women, in particular, are also at risk for finding SCC on their lower legs. When allowed to grow, this skin cancer can grow deep, destroying tissue and even bone. In some cases, SCC spreads to the lymph nodes and other parts of the body. With early diagnosis and treatment, SCC is highly curable. Once you have been diagnosed with SCC, your risk for another SCC is elevated. It is important to regularly examine your own skin for signs of skin cancer and to see your dermatologist at least yearly.
You may be at higher risk if you:
- Have been exposed to cancer-causing chemicals
- Smoke tobacco
- Are an organ transplant recipient
- Take medicine that suppresses your immune system
- Have skin that is infected with human papillomavirus (HPV)
- Have been overexposed to x-rays
- Received PUVA treatments
Treatment for SCC is generally easy when it is caught early. Your doctor will perform a small biopsy to get a sample of the cells to confirm the diagnosis. Once confirmed, treatment can almost always be performed on an outpatient basis in the physician’s office. Common treatment options include:
Mohs Micrographic Surgery
A fellowship-trained Mohs surgeon removes thin layers of tissue and examines the tissue under a microscope until the layers contain no further cancer. This treatment has the highest cure rate and removes the least amount of tissue.
Curettage and Electrodesiccation
Small lesions can often be scraped off with an instrument called a curette, and then desiccated (burned) with an electrocautery device under local anesthetic.
The entire growth along with a safety margin of normal tissue is removed. The skin around the surgical site is closed with stitches.
Various creams can be considered in some cases.
Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays (such as x-rays) or particles (such as photons, electrons, or protons) to kill cancer cells.