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If you’ve been diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma, you are not alone. SCC is the second most common form of skin cancer; however, it’s highly treatable when detected early.
WHAT DOES SCC LOOK LIKE?
SCC appears on the skin in many shapes. You may see a:
Squamous cell carcinoma
Most SCCs develop on skin that gets sun exposure, such as the face, ears, lips, back of the hands, arms and legs. SCC also can develop on areas of the body that do not get sun exposure, such as inside the mouth or on the genitals, and it may be associated with human papillomavirus.
Some SCCs begin as a growth called an actinic keratosis. Many AKs share common qualitieswith SCCs, such as being dry, scaly and rough-textured. A single AK may range from the size of a pinhead to larger than a quarter and can grow or shrink over time. You may feel tenderness at the site of an AK.
WHO CAN GET SCC?
People of all skin colors get SCCs, although it is more common in people with light-colored skin. Your everyday activities expose you to ultraviolet rays from the sun, which damage your skin. You receive this exposure every time you go outdoors, even when driving your car.
People who use tanning beds have a much higher risk of getting SCC. They also tend to get SCC earlier in life.
Your risk of developing SCC increases if you have any of the following factors:
HOW IS SCC TREATED?
SCC is highly treatable when detected early. Left untreated, however, SCC can spread to other parts of the body, making treatment difficult.
Proper treatment begins with the right diagnosis. To diagnose SCC, a dermatologist performs a skin biopsy. This is the only way to definitively diagnose skin cancer. Your dermatologist can perform a biopsy using local anesthesia during an office visit.
To perform a biopsy, your dermatologist will remove all or part of the suspected SCC for examination under a microscope.
If the diagnosis is SCC, your dermatologist will consider many factors to determine the best treatment for you, including where the SCC appears on your body, if the SCC has spread to another part of your body and your overall health.
Treatment for SCC involves one or more of the following:
This is a surgical procedure. Your dermatologist can often perform this during an office visit using local anesthesia. Excision involves removing the SCC and some normal-looking skin around it. You may need stitches to close the wound following treatment. Your dermatologist will send this skin off to a pathologist to ensure that the cancer has been completely removed. If the cancer has not been completely removed, you may need another excision at a later time.
Mohs is usually performed by a dermatologist who has received specialized training to become a Mohs surgeon. Mohs is performed in a medical office under local anesthesia while you remain awake.
During the surgery, the Mohs surgeon first removes the SCC and some normal-looking skin around and below it.
While you wait, the Mohs surgeon uses a microscope to look at what was removed. If the surgeon sees cancer cells, he or she will continue to remove very small amounts of skin, looking at each layer of skin under the microscope. This process continues until cancer cells are no longer seen. You may need stitches to close the wound following treatment.
Squamous cell carcinoma
When a patient is not a good candidate for surgery to remove the cancer, radiation therapy may be recommended. A series of radiation treatments are used to destroy the cancer cells.
Curettage and electrodesiccation
The dermatologist removes the cancer by first scraping (curetting) the growth from the skin and then intensely heating the treated area to destroy any remaining cancer cells.
Chemotherapy or Immunotherapy cream
When SCC is caught early, a dermatologist may prescribe medicine that you apply to your skin at home to destroy the cancer cells.
The FDA has approved an immunotherapy infusion drug for the treatment of SCC that has spread to other parts of the body. Your doctor will tell you if this medication is right for you.
If you have a condition that causes you to develop many SCCs, an oral medicine may be prescribed that can reduce the likelihood of developing future SCCs.
Squamous cell carcinoma
DOES HAVING SCC INCREASE YOUR RISK FOR ADDITIONAL SKIN CANCERS?
Studies show that people who get skin cancer have a greater risk of developing another skin cancer. The following can help you detect and prevent new skin cancers:
A board-certified dermatologist is a medical doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and medical, surgical and cosmetic treatment of skin, hair and nail conditions. To learn more about squamous cell carcinoma or to find a board-certified dermatologist in your area, visit aad.org/SCC or call toll-free (888) 462-DERM (3376).
All content solely developed by the American Academy of Dermatology.
Copyright © by the American Academy of Dermatology and the American Academy of Dermatology Association.
Images used with permission of the American Academy of Dermatology National Library of Dermatologic Teaching Slides
American Academy of Dermatology
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