top of page

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Dermatologist using dermatoscope to examine mole on man's back.

Did you know that squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common type of skin cancer, accounting for about 20% of all cases (basal cell carcinoma is the most common)? This aggressive form of cancer can develop in any part of the body but is most prevalent on sun-exposed areas like the face, neck, hands, and arms. Despite being highly treatable when detected early, squamous cell carcinoma can be dangerous if left unchecked.

With its potential to spread to other parts of the body, understanding the signs and symptoms of squamous cell carcinoma is crucial for early detection and effective treatment. In this post, our dermatologists at Mid-County Dermatology discuss squamous cell carcinoma, its risk factors, common symptoms to watch out for, and the importance of regular skin checks for prevention.

Characteristics of Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Squamous cell carcinoma typically appears as a firm, red nodule or a flat lesion with a scaly crust.

Common locations for squamous cell carcinomas include areas exposed to the sun, such as the face, ears, neck, lips, and backs of hands. They can also develop on scar tissue or chronic skin ulcers.

In some cases, squamous cell carcinoma presents as a non-healing sore that persists for weeks. This sore may bleed easily and eventually form a scab that falls off and reappears.

What causes squamous cell carcinoma?

Excessive exposure to UV radiation from the sun is a primary cause of squamous cell carcinoma. UV rays damage skin cells, leading to mutations that can result in the development of cancer cells. Over time, these cancer cells can grow into tumors, manifesting as squamous cell carcinoma.

Chronic skin inflammation also plays a significant role in the development of squamous cell carcinoma. Conditions such as chronic wounds, burns, or infections can trigger prolonged inflammation in the skin. This persistent inflammation creates an environment conducive to the growth and spread of cancer cells, ultimately contributing to the formation of squamous cell carcinoma.

Moreover, individuals with a genetic predisposition to certain skin conditions are at a higher risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma. Genetic factors can influence how the skin responds to UV radiation and inflammation, making some individuals more susceptible to developing this type of skin cancer. For instance, genetic conditions like xeroderma pigmentosum can impair the body's ability to repair UV-induced DNA damage, increasing the likelihood of squamous cell carcinoma.

Identifying Warning Signs

Squamous cell carcinoma can manifest through various warning signs that individuals should be vigilant about. Common symptoms include persistent sores, rough or scaly patches, and warty growths on the skin.

Regular skin checks are crucial for early detection of squamous cell carcinoma. It is essential to monitor any changes in the skin, especially areas exposed to the sun frequently.

Changes in existing skin lesions can serve as a critical warning sign for squamous cell carcinoma. Any alterations in size, shape, color, or texture of moles or spots should prompt immediate medical attention.

How St. Louis Dermatologists Diagnose Squamous Cell Carcinoma

The diagnosis of squamous cell carcinoma typically involves a series of steps by our skin experts to accurately identify and confirm the presence of this skin cancer. Initially, a visual examination is conducted to assess any suspicious areas on the skin.

Following the initial assessment, a biopsy by our dermatology team plays a crucial role in definitively confirming the squamous cell carcinoma diagnosis. A tissue sample from the affected area is examined under a microscope to determine if cancerous cells are present.

Our skin doctors consider the patient's medical history during diagnosis, as factors like previous skin conditions, sun exposure, and family cancer history provide insights into squamous cell carcinoma risk.

Imaging tests like CT scans may evaluate skin cancer extent and spread in patients. These help stage squamous cell carcinoma and plan treatment.

A collaborative approach between our dermatologists, oncologists and other experts ensures comprehensive evaluation and accurate skin cancer diagnosis for tailored treatment planning.

Diagnostic Steps:

  • Patient history reviewed by our dermatology team

  • Visual exam by our dermatologist

  • Skin biopsy for confirmation

  • Imaging studies for skin cancer staging (depends on type, size, and location of squamous cell carcinoma)

  • Ongoing monitoring via annual full-body skin examination by our dermatology team

Squamous Cell Carcinoma Treatment Options in St. Louis

Squamous cell carcinoma treatment options include topical treatments, electrodesiccation and curettage, surgical removal, radiation therapy, and other advanced treatments depending on each patient's diagnosis. 

Surgical removal by dermatology surgeons is a primary option for localized squamous cell carcinoma, completely removing the cancerous tumor along with a margin of healthy tissue to prevent recurrence.

When surgery isn't ideal, topical therapies or superficial radiotherapy using high-energy radiation therapy to target and destroy the skin cancer cells non-invasively may be recommended.

In some St. Louis squamous cell carcinoma cases, a combination of surgery and radiation therapy provides a multidisciplinary approach to address different aspects of the disease comprehensively.

The stage of skin cancer, its location, the patient's overall health, and the patient's personal preferences help guide our dermatologists in developing an effective, personalized squamous cell carcinoma treatment plan

Mohs Surgery for Squamous Cell Carcinoma 

Mohs surgery is a precise procedure commonly used by dermatologic surgeons to treat squamous cell carcinoma on the skin. During the surgery, St. Louis Mohs surgeons remove cancerous cells layer by layer, examining each one under a microscope. This meticulous process allows dermatologists to precisely target and eliminate cancer cells while preserving as much healthy tissue as possible. By doing so, Mohs surgery helps minimize scarring and damage to surrounding areas.

A key advantage of Mohs surgery for squamous cell carcinoma is its ability to preserve healthy tissue. Unlike traditional methods, Mohs surgery ensures that only cancerous cells are removed.

The high cure rates make Mohs surgery an effective squamous cell carcinoma treatment option, with studies showing 99% cure rates for primary tumors.

St. Louis Mohs surgery offers peace of mind by effectively removing squamous cell carcinoma while minimizing healthy tissue damage.

  • Precise cancerous cell removal reduces recurrence risk

  • Mohs surgery minimizes scarring and improves cosmetic results

Mohs surgery by dermatologic surgeons is ideal for treating squamous cell carcinoma in sensitive areas like the face, ears and hands where preserving tissue is crucial.

Patients can expect same-day Mohs surgery, with the dermatologist removing layers until no cancer cells remain under the microscope.

Preventing Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Sun protection is crucial in reducing the risk of squamous cell carcinoma, a common form of skin cancer. Wearing sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher and protective clothing can shield you from harmful UV rays when outdoors.

For residents of St. Louis and surrounding areas where sun exposure is high, regular self-examinations of the skin are essential. Dermatologists recommend checking your skin monthly for any new growths, non-healing sores, or changes in existing moles as these can be early signs of skin cancer like squamous cell carcinoma.

Lifestyle adjustments also play a vital role in squamous cell carcinoma prevention. Avoiding excessive sun exposure, especially during peak hours, and staying away from tanning beds can significantly reduce your risk of developing this type of skin cancer according to dermatology experts.

Key prevention tips include:

  • Applying a broad-spectrum sunscreen SPF 30+ before going outdoors

  • Wearing sun-protective clothing, hats, and sunglasses

  • Performing monthly self-skin checks as advised by dermatologists

  • Limiting time in direct sunlight when UV rays are strongest

  • Avoiding tanning beds completely due to their cancer-causing effects

By adopting these sun-safe practices recommended by dermatology professionals in the St. Louis area and around the country, you can dramatically lower your chances of developing the common yet dangerous squamous cell carcinoma skin cancer.

Summary: Squamous Cell Carcinoma 

You've learned about the characteristics, causes, warning signs, diagnosis process, treatment options, Mohs surgery, comprehensive treatments, and prevention of squamous cell carcinoma. By understanding these aspects, you are equipped to detect potential issues early on and seek appropriate medical attention promptly from a dermatologist.

This knowledge empowers you to make informed decisions regarding your skin health in the St. Louis area. Remember to prioritize regular skin checks by skin experts, practicing proper sun protection, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle to reduce your risk of developing this common skin cancer.

If you have not had a skin cancer screening, schedule yours now.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the main characteristics of Squamous Cell Carcinoma?

Squamous Cell Carcinoma is a type of skin cancer that usually appears as a firm, red nodule or a flat lesion with a scaly crust. It can grow and spread if not treated promptly.

What are the primary causes behind Squamous Cell Carcinoma?

Excessive sun exposure, tanning beds, radiation therapy, certain chemicals, and weak immune system are common causes. Individuals with fair skin are at higher risk.

How can one identify warning signs of Squamous Cell Carcinoma?

Watch out for persistent sores that won't heal, rough scaly patches, raised growths with a central depression, and warts on the skin. Any suspicious changes should be examined by a dermatologist.

What is involved in the comprehensive diagnosis process for Squamous Cell Carcinoma?

Diagnosis typically includes a physical examination, biopsy of the suspicious area, imaging tests like CT scans, and sometimes lymph node biopsy to determine the extent of cancer spread.

What treatment options are available for Squamous Cell Carcinoma?

Treatment options range from minor surgeries for early stages to radiation therapy or chemotherapy for advanced cases. The choice depends on factors like tumor size, location, and overall health status.

bottom of page