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Medical Dermatology


What are the facts about squamous cell carcinoma?

Squamous cell carcinoma originates in the epidermis and can be found in any area of the body including mucous membranes, but is most common in areas exposed to the sun such as the face, neck hands, arms back, and bald scalp. The rim of the ear and the lower lip are very vulnerable to the development of this tumor. The most frequent cause of squamous cell carcinoma is chronic exposure to sunlight. Those at most risk include individuals with fair skin, blue, green, or gray eyes with light colored hair. This condition may arise at the site of preexisting inflammatory skin conditions or burn injuries.

Are there skin conditions that sometimes develop into squamous cell carcinoma?

The following non-cancerous conditions may develop into squamous cell carcinoma:

  • Actinic keratosis
  • Actinic cheilitis
  • Leukoplakia- White patches on the tongue or inside of the mouth
  • Bowen’s Disease- Considered to be a superficial squamous cell cancer that is contained within the epidermis. A persistent red-brown scaly patch which may resemble psoriasis or eczema.

What types of lesions might be squamous cell carcinoma?

The following lesions may be squamous cell carcinomas:

  • A red patch with irregular borders that is scaly and sometimes crusts or bleeds
  • An elevated growth with a central depression that may bleed
  • An open sore that bleeds and crusts
  • A growth that resembles a wart that crusts and bleeds
  • Cutaneous Horn

How is squamous cell carcinoma treated?

After a physician exam and biopsy to confirm the diagnosis of squamous cell carcinoma, a course of treatment will be determined based on the type, size, location and depth of penetration of the tumor as well as the patient's age and health status. The following are available treatment options:

  • Excision
  • Curettage (scraping of the skin)
  • Cryosurgery
  • Radiation

When diagnosed in its early stages, squamous cell carcinoma is almost always curable. As with other skin cancers, the earlier the treatment is administered, the smaller the area affected resulting in a cosmetically acceptable result. The larger the tumor, the more invasive the treatment. Although squamous cell carcinomas rarely spread, it should be noted that approximately 11% of these tumors found on the lip do metastasize.

Do squamous cell carcinomas recur?

Anyone who has had a squamous cell carcinomas has an increased chance of developing another. If you have had a basal cell carcinoma you are at more risk of developing a squamous cell carcinoma. Both types of skin cancer are normally caused by excessive sun exposure. Squamous cell carcinomas on the lips, ears and nose are more likely to recur.

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