Squamous cell carcinoma
Squamous cell carcinoma: Diagnosis and treatment
What is it?
Squamous cells are part of the human body. The job of squamous cells is to protect what lies beneath. In our skin, these cells sit near the surface, protecting the tissue beneath. Anywhere we have squamous cells, we can develop a type of cancer called squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). It tends to grow slowly, but it can grow deep. When the cancer grows deep, it can injure nerves, blood vessels, and anything else in its path. As the cancer cells pile up, a large tumor can form.
Diagnosis SCC: The only way to diagnose any type of skin cancer, including squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), is with a skin biopsy. Your dermatologist can perform this procedure during an office visit.
A skin biopsy should not cause anxiety. To perform a skin biopsy, your dermatologist will remove the entire growth or part of it. Your dermatologist may send this to a laboratory or look at it under a microscope. The findings will be communicated in a biopsy report.
If the biopsy report states that you have SCC, your dermatologist will consider many factors to determine which treatment will be best.
The type of treatment a patient receives depends on how deep the cancer has grown and whether it has spread.
Excision: This is a surgical procedure that your dermatologist often can perform during an office visit. It involves numbing the area to be treated and cutting out any remaining tumor plus some normal-looking skin around the tumor.
Like the skin biopsy, this removed skin is examined under the microscope. This may be done at a laboratory or by your dermatologist. The doctor who looks at the removed skin needs to see whether the normal-looking skin is free of cancer cells. If not, more skin will need to be removed. This is a common way to treat SCC.
Staged Mohs surgery: Named for the doctor who developed this surgery, Mohs (pronounced “moes”) is a specialized surgery used to remove some skin cancers usually on the head and neck area. It offers the highest cure rate for difficult-to-treat squamous cell cancers. Your dermatologist will tell you if Mohs surgery is right for you.
If Mohs surgery is recommended, this is what you can expect. The surgeon will cut out the tumor plus a very small amount of normal- looking skin surrounding the tumor. While the patient waits, a pathologist uses a microscope to look at what was removed. The pathologist is looking for cancer cells on the outer margins of the excision.
If necessary, the Mohs surgeon will continue to remove a very small amount of skin and look at it under the microscope. This continues until the surgeon no longer sees cancer cells.
Radiation: This treatment is usually reserved for SCCs that cannot be cut out, or when cutting may not be the best choice. A patient may need 15 to 30 radiation treatments.
When the SCC is caught early, it may be treated by:
Curettage and electrodesiccation (ED&C): When the SCC is caught early, it may be treated with this method. This treatment consists of two steps. First, your dermatologist scrapes away the tumor. Then electricity is used to destroy any remaining cancer cells. These two steps are repeated.
Chemotherapy cream: Cream that contains a chemotherapy drug, 5-fluorouracil (5-FU), can be used to treat SCC in the earliest stage.
With treatment, most SCCs are cured. Early treatment is recommended. When allowed to grow, this skin cancer can grow deep, destroying tissue and even bone. In some cases, SCC spreads to the lymph nodes and other parts of the body. This can cause serious health problems.Back to Skin Condition Library >