Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common form of skin cancer in the United States. Skin cancer can be a worrying prospect, but understanding what to look for will give you the tools necessary for early detection and treatment.
Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is a fairly common, slow-growing skin cancer that affects roughly 700,000 Americans every year. SCC is fairly easy to treat when detected early. Fortunately, squamous cell carcinoma often has visible indicators that are easy to spot if you know what to look for. The leading cause of SCC is UV light damage from the sun. People who have experienced many severe sunburns are more prone to develop squamous cell carcinoma, but any amount of sun damage can contribute to SCC.
While squamous cell carcinoma moves slowly, it is unlike some other kinds of skin cancer because it can spread to body tissues, lymph nodes, or bones. If allowed to develop, SCC becomes much harder to treat. While melanoma is generally considered more lethal, more people die every year from SCC. This is in part because the characteristics of SCC are not as well-known as melanoma, which often appears as a mole. Educating yourself about how SCC can appear will help you identify tumors early so that they can be treated quickly and efficiently.
Squamous cell carcinoma starts as a dome-shaped, red, and sometimes scaly patch of skin. Affected skin will usually feel rough, dry to the touch, and increasingly sensitive to cutting or bleeding. The size of SCC can vary and it can appear anywhere on the skin, even in places that aren’t directly exposed to sunlight like the bottom of the foot or inside the mouth. More often, SCC will develop on the head, face, arms or legs. Squamous cell carcinoma is often firm to the touch, but like other forms of skin cancer there are some exceptions. SCC might not be lump-shaped and it can even develop under your nails.
Squamous cell carcinoma can be detected even before it forms. SCC is the name of the cancer that develops, but before it forms as cancer it can appear as two different skin conditions. Actinic keratosis (AK) is a pre-cancerous growth that can develop into SCC or other types of skin cancer. AK appears smaller on the skin than SCC, and is usually pink or white in color. It’s usually also dry, and may even cause an itching or burning sensation. It might look like a rash or a patch of dryness, but if it doesn’t respond to moisturizers or resolve within a few day’s time, seek a dermatologist’s help. Experts estimate that anywhere between 40-60 percent of squamous cell carcinoma cases begin as actinic keratosis.
The other indicator of squamous cell carcinoma is called Bowen’s disease, a cancerous early stage of SCC. Most often, Bowen’s disease appears as a flat patch on the skin, usually a little smaller than a dime. Multiple patches can appear, but it’s possible that only one patch of Bowen’s disease will manifest. Skin affected by Bowen’s disease is often scaly, itchy, sore, and can ooze or become crusty. Bowen’s disease can appear on the genitals but also anywhere else on the skin. This is because Bowen’s disease is thought to be caused by HPV, a common sexually transmitted disease responsible for other types of cancer.
If your skin exhibits any of the symptoms outlined above, it’s best not to wait it out and see what happens. As with all skin cancers, erring on the side of caution is the way to go. Your dermatologist will be able to identify whether a lesion is cancerous, precancerous, or benign.
Squamous cell carcinoma may move slowly, but it can spread and prove deadly. Reaching out to your New England dermatologist will give you the peace of mind that you need when your skin shows signs of cancer.