Squamous Cell Carcinoma: Causes, Treatment, Prevention
Almost a quarter of a million Americans are diagnosed with Squamous Cell Carcinoma every year—and the number is growing. But what are the causes and warning signs? And what can you do to protect yourself?
This kind of skin cancer may look like a red and scaly patch on your skin or a nodule. It's considered more aggressive than Basal Cell Carcinoma, but is highly treatable, especially when detected early. Squamous Cell Carcinoma can occur anywhere—even the genitals—but the most common areas are on the face, ears, neck, hands, arms, and legs. Usually these carcinomas only occur in the skin's epidermis, but a small number of cases have been known to metastasize to other tissue and even to the organs. It's estimated that Squamous leads to 2,500 American deaths each year.
There are several pre-cancerous indicators for this kind of skin cancer. See a doctor right away if you notice:
- Rough, scaly, raised growths, especially if they bleed
- An open sore that bleeds, crusts over, and lasts more than a couple weeks
- A cracked, scaly, and pale lip
- White patches on your tongue or anywhere inside your mouth
A scaly, reddish-brown patch that looks like psoriasis or eczema
This kind of cancer is 95 percent treatable. Treatment is usually performed on an outpatient basis and under local anesthetic. While treatments are usually 95 percent effective, it's important to note that scarring in many cases is unavoidable, and that recurrence of growth is common. Therefore, it's essential to diligently monitor any treated sites for possible regrowth.
Treatment techniques include:
Moh's Micrographic Surgery or Excisional Surgery
The growth is removed with a scalpel along with some surrounding tissue. Micrographic surgery preserves more of your healthy skin than traditional excisional surgery and may not require sutures.
The tumor is destroyed by freezing it with liquid nitrogen, where it will crust and eventually fall off on its own. It requires no anesthesia and is easy to perform, but may not be the best option for more invasive types of cancer.
Usually reserved for tumors that are hard to surgically remove, this technique requires a series of treatments.
Experiments with Laser Surgery and Photodynamic Therapy appear promising, but these have not yet been FDA-approved for Squamous Cell Carcinoma treatment.
People at the Highest Risk for Squamous Cell Carcinoma
- Those with fair skin and light eyes
- Anyone with a history of sun exposure or skin cancer
- Men (double the risk of women)
- Adults over 50
- African Americans (they will develop this type of skin cancer more than any other)
- Anyone who's been exposed to radiation or chemicals
- Sufferers of psoriasis or a long-term skin inflammation
- Tanning bed users
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, the best way to avoid any skin cancer is to protect yourself from the sun and stay in tune with changes happening to your skin:
- Apply sunscreen of 15 SPF or higher EVERY day about 30 minutes before going outside.
- Cover up with clothing and seek shade between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. Don't fake bake by going to a tanning salon.
- Examine your skin from head-to-toe, once a month.
- Get an annual dermatological check-up (go more often if you have any problems).
Mgh.harvard.edu: "Squamous Cell Carcinoma." Web. Massachusetts General Hospital. 2010. http://www.mgh.harvard.edu/conditions/condition.aspx?id=448
SkinCancer.org: "Squamous Cell Carcinoma: The Second Most Common Skin Cancer." Skin Cancer Foundation. 2010. http://www.skincancer.org/squamous-cell-carcinoma.html
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