Squamous cell carcinoma

This is a form of skin cancer which is the second most common behind malignant melanoma. It takes the form of a red, scaly, crusty lump which is tender to the touch. But these differ in appearance.

Squamous cell carcinoma can be cured as long as it is caught at an early stage.

Who is most at risk of squamous cell carcinoma?

There are particular groups of people who are more at risk of squamous cell carcinoma. These include:

  • Older people
  • People with fair skin and blue eyes
  • People with very white skin and red hair (Celtic skin type)
  • People who have suffered from severe cases of sunburn
  • People who have been exposed to chemicals
  • People who have undergone frequent x-rays
  • People who work outdoors
  • People with a compromised immune system as a result of chemotherapy or immunosuppressant therapy.

Squamous cell carcinoma does not run in families: but if you and anyone in your family is fair skinned, tends to burn rather than tan and has lots of freckles then you are at greater risk.

Causes of squamous cell carcinoma

This condition develops in skin which becomes damaged, e.g. from excessive exposure to the sun. This is a particular risk for fair skinned people and/or people who use a sunbed or enjoy sunbathing on a regular basis. But this also applies to other forms of skin damage such as burns, ulcers and wounds.

Symptoms of squamous cell carcinoma

It causes the development of flat, red, scaly patches with a crusty surface and swelling around the base. These appear on various parts of the body such as the face, hands, and arms and neck although they may also develop on other areas.

Diagnosing squamous cell carcinoma

Your GP is your first port of call. Visit him/her sooner rather than later as the earlier you do so the greater the chance of success. But a rash such as this may also be the sign of another skin condition which will need to be ruled out.

Your GP will ask you about your symptoms, your medical history and family history if applicable before examining the affected areas of the body. He or she will refer you for tests which include a skin biopsy.

A skin biopsy involves the removal of a small sample of infected skin which is then sent to a lab for further investigation. This will determine if you have skin cancer or not.

Treatment for squamous cell carcinoma

This depends upon the extent of the cancer and your general health. Options include:

  • Surgical removal (excision) of the infected lump/s
  • Cryosurgery: involves the use of liquid nitrogen to freeze the cancerous lump which also kills it.
  • Curettage: scraping away of the infected lump followed by electrocautery. This uses direct heat to kill any remaining cancerous cells.
  • Medication: topical creams which are applied to the cancerous area.
  • Photodynamic therapy: light therapy which targets the affected area and destroys the cancerous cells.

If the rash has spread to other areas of the body then chemotherapy/radiation therapy will be used.

This cancer is curable if treated early. There is a risk of it returning which is why you will be required to attend your GP’s surgery on a regular basis for skin check ups. But get into the habit of checking your skin on a monthly basis and contact your GP if you notice any changes.

Preventing squamous cell carcinoma

The same advice applies here as with any other form of skin cancer. Cover up when outside in sunny weather, use a sunscreen with a high sun protection factor (SPF) each time you go out in hot weather and avoid sunbeds and sunlamps.