Just behind basal cell carcinoma (BCC), squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is the second most common type of skin cancer. It is more aggressive than BCC and if not identified and treated early, in some cases it can metastasis to lymph nodes and rarely lead to death. The primary cause of SCC is an excessive cumulative amount of sun exposure. There are other factors that can contribute such as genetic predisposition, a compromised immune system, infection with human papillomavirus (HPV), history of radiation and chronic wounds or burns. The most common locations to find SCC is on the sun-exposed skin, particularly the tops of the hands and arms, the face, ears, and the scalp. The genital skin is prone to SCC caused by human papillomavirus. Unlike BCC, which arises as a cancer spontaneously, SCC usually starts as a precursor lesion called an actinic keratosis. These early lesions are the first sign of a problem and fortunately can be easily treated without surgery. If left unchecked, the precursor lesions increase in size and start to invade into deeper layers the the skin, developing into an invasive SCC.
Treatment of SCC starts with a correct diagnosis after a physical exam of the skin, palpation of surrounding lymph nodes, and a skin biopsy. Once identified, various surgical and in some cases nonsurgical modalities are utilized to destroy the cancer cells. I can help you decide on what is the best treatment method given the location of your skin cancer, the size, the histopathology seen under the microscope, your age and overall health. Routine skin checks will be required for the remainder of your life after a diagnosis of skin cancer as your risk of future skin cancer is increased.
You can prevent the development of SCC by protecting your skin from the sun using sunscreen, hats, and sun protective clothing. Don't pick up smoking or if you already do, cut back and try to quit as this increases your risk. Early and aggressive treatment of pre-cancerous lesions, the actinic keratosis, is also crucial as these are a warning sign of impending SCC.