Squamous cells are the cells that make up most of the skin. Squamous cell carcinoma is cancer of these cells. This cancer can appear on different organs of the body, not just the skin, such as, mouth, esophagus, lungs, cervix and prostate.
Squamous cell carcinoma is diagnosed in 20% of non-melanoma skin cancers. Squamous cell carcinoma affects 200,000 people yearly in the United States alone. Smoking and sun exposure increase the risks significantly. Other risks are chronic skin inflammation, genetic diseases, exposure to carcinogens and radiation therapy. Squamous cell carcinoma has been characterized as in situ (situated at the site of origin) or invasive, meaning it has metastasized. The cancer presents as red itchy, scales on the skin which develop into an open sore. Anti-rejection drugs used in organ transplantation can suppress the immune system and be a major risk factor for squamous cell carcinoma.
Squamous cell carcinoma is usually detected on the skin first. The following changes in the skin are indicators of squamous cell carcinoma:
open sore that bleeds, crusts and lasts for weeks
red scaly patch with uneven borders that occasionally crusts or bleeds
a growth looking like a wart that occasionally bleeds or crusts
a raised growth with a depression in the middle that sometimes bleeds (this growth usual increases rapidly in size)
Diagnosis is made by a pathologist from a biopsy of the growth. Biopsies can be performed in a dermatologist’s office with general anesthesia.
If detected early and removed promptly this cancer has a 95% cure rate. If the carcinoma quickly grows and is resistant to treatment it can invade deeper tissue and eventually cartilage and bone. If treatment is delayed, disfigurement can result and elimination will be difficult. Squamous cell carcinomas that appear on the face (lips, ears, mouth or nose) have a higher rate of metastasis. Individuals who have compromised immune systems have a higher rate of metastasis of squamous cell carcinoma, as well.
Treatment options are determined by the location, size, type and recurrence of the tumor. The health and preference of the individual also dictates the treatment. For the most part treatment occurs in the doctor’s office or special surgical facilities. If the tumor is extensive, which is rare, a general anesthesia and hospital admission may be necessary.
Methods used to remove tumors in the doctor’s office are curettage-electrodessication, cryosurgery, Mohs micrographic surgery, surgical excision, radiation, laser therapy, and photodynamic therapy.
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