Squamous cell carcinoma is an extremely common form of skin cancer which is usually benign, especially if caught early. In almost 97% of cases, the cancer can be excised and the patient will fully recover. In other instances, this cancer has the potential to metastasize, spreading to other portions of the body and creating serious health problems.
This carcinoma attacks the epithelium, the upper layer of the skin. The epithelium has special cells known as squamous cells which are flattened, and in cross-section, they resemble scales. These cells perform a number of important functions for the body, such as promoting gas exchange. In addition to appearing on the skin, squamous cell carcinoma can also attack squamous cells in other parts of the body, like internal organs, the tongue, and so forth.
The first sign of squamous cell carcinoma is usually a reddened, scaly patch on the skin. Sometimes a lump or nodule will develop. As the scaly patch spreads, it will start to form lesions and a thick crust. If allowed to spread, the growth can eat into the surrounding cells, causing extensive tissue loss. If it happens to be malignant, it can spread to internal organs and the rest of the body.
Treatment for squamous cell carcinoma involves total excision of the carcinoma. Many doctors simply cut the cancer out, but it can also be frozen or burned away. Most doctors like to ensure that the margins are clean, and they may take a biopsy to confirm that the patient had squamous cell carcinoma, and that the carcinoma has been fully removed. The biopsy will also test to determine whether the carcinoma was in situ, meaning that it would only attack the surface layers, or invasive, with the potential to spread.
The biggest risk factor for squamous cell carcinoma, along with other skin conditions like basal cell carcinoma and melanoma, is pale skin and frequent sun exposure. Exposure to certain chemicals may also increase the risk. If you have light skin, you should protect yourself from skin cancers by applying suitable sunscreen, and shielding yourself from the sun with wide-brimmed hats and loose-fitting long garments. Remember that even when the weather is overcast, harmful UV radiation can still penetrate!