squamous cell carcinoma

What is Squamous Cell Carcinoma?

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is the second most common forms of skin cancer, and accounts for up to 30% of skin cancers.

It starts from cells in the outermost layer of the skin which start to overgrow and potentially spread. SCC can also start from cells on the lips, tongue, lining of the mouth and genitals.

SCC is caused mainly by chronic sun exposure.

Most SCCs can be cured when found and treated early. Although uncommon, advanced SCCs are more difficult to treat and can become disfiguring and invasive. SCC may rarely spread to local lymph nodes, distal body parts and even become deadly.

What does SCC look like?

Usually presents on sun exposed parts of the head and neck ,shoulders, hands, forearms, and lower legs, but can start anywhere on the body.

Often appears as a thickened red, scaly or crusted spot or patch. It may become tender and inflamed or bleed and may look like a sore that hasn’t healed.

It may present as a rapidly growing wart-like lump.

Risk Factors for Developing SCC

SCC is caused mainly by chronic sun exposure.

Other risk factors include: a weakened immune system due to illness or immunosupressent medication, a history of previous skin cancer, age over 50 yrs. fair skin (blond hair, blue or green eyes, freckles or easily burns), sun spots ( solar keratosis), chronic skin inflammation from viral infections, burns or scars and male gender.

Sometimes a wart virus can trigger changes in the cells causing a SCC to form, especially on the genitals or inside the mouth.

Some cases are caused by exposure to chemicals (such as arsenic or the tar found in cigarette smoke) or due to trauma such as a burn or old scar. People who are immunosuppressed such as those who have had an organ transplant or those with conditions such as lymphoma are more prone to developing multiple SCCs.

How is Squamous Cell Carcinoma Treated?

A small biopsy is often needed to confirm the diagnosis prior to treatment being undertaken to determine the type of SCC and subsequent treatment method.

The condition is usually treated with simple skin surgery. This enables the pathologist to check under the microscope that the SCC has been removed completely. Further surgery or radiation therapy may be required if there was any residual tumour evident, or nerves were involved or a more aggressive pattern was seen under the microscope.

In some situations and in some locations, small SCCs can be treated by a scraping called curettage or by freezing with liquid nitrogen. In circumstances where surgery is not appropriate the SCC may be treated by radiation therapy alone.

Some superficial SCCs and sunspots can be treated with Photodynamic therapy (PTD), or topical medications. PDT uses light sensitising cream and a specific direct light to kill the cancer cells. Efudix (5-FU), Aldara (Imiquimod) and Picato (ingenol mebutate) are creams that can be applied directly to the affected area with minimal risk of scarring.

There are promising immunotherapy treatment options for treating advanced SCC being developed.

There are new preventative therapies available such as oral nicotinamide (vitamin B3) for those with an established history of NMSC, particularly SCC. A recent Australian study demonstrated a significant reduction in NMSC in those who took high dose oral nicotinamide (500mg twice a day) for a year

After Treatment

Regular skin cancer checkups are required. The schedule will depend on the type of SCC and treatment. GPs, skin cancer clinics and dermatologist generally perform full body skin checks.

Examine yourself head to toe once a month looking for any spot/mark/patch that is new, changing or different. When in doubt get it checked out.

Practice sun safety making daily sun protection a part of your lifestyle. This is the single most effective way to reduce your risk of developing skin cancer.