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Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is the second most common form of skin cancer in Canada, after basal cell carcinoma. It is important to get treatment for squamous cell carcinoma, as the larger these tumours grow, the more damage is done to the surrounding tissue, which could lead to disfigurement and need more extensive medical attention. In rare cases, these tumours can spead (or metastasize) to distant tissues, organs, or local lymph glands with potentially fatal results. A pre-cancerous growth or “sun spot” call an actinic keratosis may develop into a squamous cell carcinoma.

Squamous cell carcinomas often appear as thickened, red, scaly bumps or wart-like growths, but may also look like open sores or dry, scaly patches of skin. This type of skin cancer usually grows slowly, but at times may grow quickly, over a period of a few weeks. Squamous cell carcinomas are often tender, but some may not be painful at all.

The leading cause of squamous cell carcinoma is chronic exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, either from the sun or from tanning beds. This exposure causes certain cells in the outer layer of the skin to grow out of control and into a tumour. It can also develop where the skin has been damaged by x-rays, ulcers, burns, and on persistent chronic wounds and old scars. While it can appear on any part of your body, it is most common on areas that are exposed to the sun, such as the head, face, neck, shoulders and extremities. If a lesion appears on the rim of the ear or lip, extra caution is advised as these are often more serious in nature, being more aggressive and prone to spreading to nearby lymph glands.

Risk factors for developing squamous cell carcinoma include:

  • Fair skin that burns in the sun
  • A history of receiving a lot of exposure to UV radiation, either from the sun or from tanning beds
  • Having signs of chronic sun damage, such as actinic keratosis, or “sun spots”
  • Individuals who have had organ transplants, or who have a decreased immune system

Treatment for squamous cell carcinoma consists mainly of surgical excision, but radiation therapy may be used in selected cases. Squamous cell carcinoma can spread to other parts of the body, causing serious health problems, but is highly curable with early diagnosis and treatment.

Speak to your doctor if you have any suspicious lesions, and are worried about squamous cell carcinoma.

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