Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC)

What Is Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC)?

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is one of the most common forms of cancer. It originates in the flat and scale-like cells that form the outer surface of numerous bodily structures, including the mouth, esophagus, blood vessels, lung alveoli, and the epidermis or skin. This type of cancer frequently develops on parts of the body that are exposed to sunlight or other, artificial sources of ultraviolet (UV) radiation. It can, however, develop in less exposed areas as well. Squamous cell carcinomas are potentially dangerous, but easily treatable if detected before they spread.

If you suspect you have symptoms of squamous cell carcinoma, arrange to see your Baptist Health family physician or oncologist today.

Where Do Squamous Cell Carcinomas (SCC) Grow?

Though squamous cell carcinomas are usually thought of as skin cancers, they can actually develop anywhere that squamous cells are present on or in the body, including:

  • Bladder
  • Head and neck
  • Fingers
  • Lungs
  • Mouth
  • Penis
  • Prostate
  • Throat and esophagus
  • Thyroid
  • Vagina and cervix.

What Are the Symptoms of Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC)?

Symptoms of squamous cell carcinoma most commonly appear on the exterior or near-exterior surfaces of the body. These include:

  • Flat, scaly skin sores
  • Red bumps or nodules on the skin
  • Sores that develop on healed scars or ulcerations
  • Red nodules or wart-like growths on the genitals
  • Open sores or scaly patches on the lips
  • Open sores or scaly patches in the mouth.

Risk factors for squamous cell carcinomas include sun-damaged skin, a family history of skin cancers or lesions, a depleted immune system, and certain chemical exposures and genetic disorders.

What Causes Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC)?

Like other cancers, squamous cell carcinomas occur when mutations in DNA cause changes in cell behavior. Cancerous cells reproduce more rapidly than normal cells, outliving them and interfering with the body’s proper functioning. The primary generator of mutations in squamous cells is overexposure to ultraviolet radiation, either from sunlight or from artificial sources, such as tanning beds. 

There are several things you can do to limit the possibility of developing squamous cell carcinoma:

  • Reduce your exposure to the sun, especially during peak, midday hours.
  • When outdoors, dress accordingly. Cover your skin with long-sleeve shirts, full-length pants, hats, bandanas, socks, and shoes.  
  • Apply sunscreen to any exposed skin. Make sure that whatever product you’re using offers an adequate level of protection, as measured by SPF, or sun-protection factor.
  • Stay out of tanning beds.

Individuals who have had skin cancer in the past need to be particularly careful. Have your skin checked regularly by a doctor. 

How Is Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC) Diagnosed?

Your physician will likely take the following steps to diagnose squamous cell carcinoma:

  • Physical exam: Your doctor will look you over for evidence of a cancerous growth. He or she will also ask questions about your medical history and possible risk factors.
  • Biopsy: To confirm the presence of cancer, your physician will collect a tiny sample of any lesion he or she finds, called a biopsy. The biopsy will be sent to a medical lab for analysis. You will receive test results in a few days to a couple of weeks.

How Is Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC) Treated?

Minor surgery is the most common means of treating squamous cell carcinoma. Your physician may perform the procedure in his or her office. There are a variety of surgical techniques utilized for squamous cell carcinoma, depending on the size, nature, and location of the cancerous growth:

  • Excision: Your physician cuts the cancer from the skin, along with some of the healthy tissue surrounding it. This is to ensure the cancer’s elimination.
  • Mohs surgery: Mohs surgery supplements excision with a microscopic examination of the remaining skin, to ensure complete removal of the cancer.
  • Dermabrasion: Think of dermabrasion as sandpaper surgery, in which a specialized medical tool eliminates the skin layer with the cancer cells.
  • Topical chemotherapy: An anticancer chemical is applied to the skin, sometimes with microneedles.
  • Laser excision: The cancerous growth is removed by a surgical laser.
  • Superficial radiation therapy: High-energy X-ray or proton beams are directed at the cancerous growth.
  • Cryosurgery: In cryosurgery, the physician uses liquid nitrogen to freeze and kill the cancer spot.
  • Targeted drug therapy: Targeted drugs focus on certain genetic weaknesses present in the cancer cells.
  • Photodynamic therapy: The surgeon applies a liquid to the cancer that makes it photosensitive. The cancer cells weaken and die when a light beam is directed at them.

Squamous cell carcinomas are treatable and beatable. The key is early detection by your physician. If you’re concerned about the possibility of squamous cell carcinoma, don’t put off a trip to the doctor.   

Next Steps with MyChart

Discover MyChart, a free patient portal that combines your Baptist Health medical records into one location. Schedule appointments, review lab results, financials, and more! If you have questions, give us a call.