written by: BStone
• edited by: Diana Cooper
• updated: 10/13/2010
The metastasis of squamous cell carcinoma is potentially life threatening. Learn about the spread of this form of skin cancer and how to prevent it.
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Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Hundreds of thousands of people in America alone are diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma each year. It is the second most popular type of skin cancer, and along with basal cell carcinoma, is very easily cured — as long as it has not had the chance to spread. The metastasis of squamous cell carcinoma on the other hand is not as easily cured and efficiently treated. Before metastasizing a cancerous growth can often be removed with a simple surgical procedure in the doctor's office. While there are few cases which metastasize each year, of those cases a significant number of patients die from the disease.
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When Skin Cancer Spreads
If squamous cell carcinoma spreads it first moves to nearby lymph nodes. From the lymph nodes it can metastasize to other organs. In most cases the cancer spreads to the lungs, although it can travel elsewhere.
The risk of metastasis is low. It is estimated that from two to six percent of cases metastasize. Generally, it is the high-risk cases of the disease that have this problem, when they are left untreated. Factors such as age, sun exposure, and fair skin increase risk. Once the cancer has reached the lymph nodes the morbidity rate is significant. If squamous cell carcinoma reaches the lungs it cannot be cured.
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The best way to prevent the metastasis of squamous cell carcinoma is to take measures to reduce your risk of skin cancer altogether. Limit your sun exposure, do not use tanning beds, and when in the sun use a high SPF, natural sunblock to protect your skin from UVA and UVB damage. Eating a healthy diet that is rich in fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains is also known to help prevent cancer and to strengthen the immune system.
Check your skin regularly for abnormal markings, particularly on your face, ears, shoulders, hands, and back. If recognized early on you can easily prevent the metastasis of the tumor. Look for rough patches of skin, open sores that are prone to bleeding, or any red, crusted, or scaly patch. If any marks are present see your doctor so they can make an early diagnosis if it is indeed skin cancer. Once diagnosed they can remove the cancer long before it has any chance of spreading. Take special care of your skin, checking for red, scaly patches or sores once a month if you are at risk for squamous cell carcinoma because of a lifetime of sun exposure, fair skin, prior problems with skin cancer, or if you are over fifty. Also, men are two to three times more likely to develop the condition. Even if you have already had squamous cell carcinoma successfully treated in the past, it is possible that a new growth can occur so always be aware of your skin.
Squamous cell carcinoma is not likely to metastasize. If it does however, the disease in many cases is fatal, especially if it moves beyond the lymph nodes. Wear sunblock, stay in the shade, wear a broad-rimmed hat when you are out in the garden for hours, and see your doctor if you see any signs of cancerous growth.
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American Academy of Dermatology <http://www.aad.org/public/publications/pamphlets/sun_squamous.html>
American Osteopathic College of Dermatology <http://www.aocd.org/skin/dermatologic_diseases/squamous_cell_carc.html>
E Medicine of Web MD <http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1101535-overview>