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An Overview of Early Squamous Cell Cancer

written by: Vikas Vij • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 1/12/2011

Early squamous cell cancer can be successfully treated if it is detected early. Light skinned men in the age group of 65 plus are at the highest risk. Several treatment options, including surgery, are available to treat this carcinoma.

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    What is Early Squamous Cell Cancer?

    Early squamous cell cancer is a common form of non-melanoma skin cancer that can be brought under control if treated in time. If left untreated, squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) can enlarge or spread to other body parts, creating major complications. As per medical researchers, the incidence of skin carcinomas is on the rise because of the increased exposure to sunlight. Extended exposure to ultra-violet rays is the leading cause of squamous cell carcinoma. The source of UV radiation may be sunlight or lamps or home tanning equipment. The best prevention against this form of cancer is to avoid ultra-violet radiation as far as possible.

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    Symptoms

    This form of cancer typically develops in the areas of the skin that are regularly exposed to the sun. However, it may also develop in other areas such as the mouth or the genital area. The tumor may show up in the shape of a reddish, firm nodule on the face, neck, ears, arms, hands, or lips. It may also reveal itself as a plain lesion on these areas. Other signs may include a white patch inside the mouth or a new ulcer on a pre-existing scar. This type of carcinoma has a slow growth rate and is usually difficult to identify. The patient may confuse it with other signs of sun damage.

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    Causes

    Squamous cell cancer typically develops from the cells lined above the basal layer, which do not regenerate normally. In normal conditions, the DNA process ensures that the new cells are created and the older cells get sloughed off the skin. But if the DNA process does not function properly, the cell formation gets disturbed. The damage to the DNA in the skin cells generally occurs due to exposure to ultra-violet rays. The risk increases if the exposure is prolonged and under strong sunlight. Other causes include chemical toxins such as arsenic, which is present in the environment. Human papillomavirus (HPV) is also known to contribute to this disease.

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    Risk Factors

    There are a number of risk factors that are known to contribute to SCC. The foremost factor is prolonged exposure to ultra violet radiation due to sunlight. People with a fair skin or freckles have a greater tendency to get sunburns. That makes them more vulnerable to this carcinoma compared to people with darker skin. Age is also a risk factor for this disease because it occurs more often among adults, and the average age of the patients diagnosed with this cancer is 65. Gender may also have a role to play because the number of men affected by this cancer is disproportionately high. An individual’s past history of skin cancer is also a known risk factor of this disease.

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    Treatment Options

    In the early stages of squamous cell cancer, a minor surgery may be sufficient to remove the carcinoma completely. However, the treatments may vary depending on the location, size and aggressiveness of the tumor. Cryosurgery is one of the effective treatment options, which involves freezing the cancerous cells with liquid nitrogen. Laser therapy is another option that may be used as an alternative to surgery, and reduces the risk of bleeding and scarring. One of the most effective treatments for SCC is MOHS surgery in which the tumor is removed in layers until all the cancerous cells are removed.