Squamous cell cancer is the second most common type of skin cancer. It is usually caused by past sun exposure and sunburn, especially in fair-skinned people. It is also more likely to be found in patients who are immunosuppressed. These skin cancers can be aggressive and destroy the tissue surrounding the tumor. In certain aggressive types of squamous cell carcinoma, or those that are left untreated, the tumor can become invasive and spread to the lymph nodes and other organs. For this reason, it is important to get early treatment.
Squamous cell cancer is primarily found on sun-exposed areas such as the rim of the ear, face, scalp, lips, and mouth. It often begins as a small, sandpaper like growth called actinic keratoses. It then develops into a crusted or scaly patch with a red, inflammed base. It can also present as a growing tumor, a non-healing ulcer, or just a crust.
If a squamous cell skin cancer is suspected, it should be promptly biopsied to confirm diagnosis. After diagnosis, your physician will recommend the most appropriate treatment. Some lesions can be removed by excision of the growth along with a small amount of surrounding tissue. The specimen is then sent out to a lab for confirmation that all of the cancer has been removed. If not, further excision will be necessary. Another, more precise method of removal is called Mohs micrographic surgery. This is the most precise method of removal, while minimizing the amount of tissue removed. This method is primarily used for recurrent cancers and on areas such as the face, nose, ears, and lips where preservation of healthy tissue is critical for cosmetic and functional purposes. Radiation is also an option for patients who are not surgical candidates.
The remaining surgical defect may be reconstructed by the Mohs surgeon or may require a plastic surgeon.
Certain types of Squamous cell cancers are considered “high risk”. In these cases, further evaluation and treatment is necessary. Specialized tests, such as an MRI, CT scan, PET scan, or Sentinel lymph node biopsy, may be ordered to determine if the cancer has metastasized. Treatment may include Radiation and/or removal of the invaded lymph nodes.
Prevention of squamous cell skin cancer is best accomplished by using proper sun protection and doing self-examinations for early detection. When found early and treated properly, the cure rate is more than 95%.