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Diagnosis and Treatment of Cheek Squamous Cell Carcinomas

written by: R. Elizabeth C. Kitchen • edited by: Emma Lloyd • updated: 4/21/2011

Do you or your doctor suspect cheek squamous cell carcinoma? If so, read on to learn more about this cancer, its warning signs, diagnosis, and how it is treated.

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    In the United States, 16 percent of new skin cancer diagnoses are squamous cell carcinoma. Areas of the skin most often exposed to the sun, such as the cheeks, are most commonly affected. This form of cancer is the second most diagnosed type of nonmelanoma skin cancer after basal cell carcinoma.

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    Warning Signs

    If a person suspects a cheek squamous cell carcinoma, they inspect their cheek for:

    • A wart-like plaque or growth
    • Scaly, red bumps or patches
    • Sores that are not healing
    • Scaly or crusted area on the skin with an inflamed, red base

    The tumors can grow up to an inch in size and then develop into a large mass. This type of skin cancer has the potential to spread, so if it is suspected, it should be evaluated immediately. Squamous cell carcinomas can be hard to identify and typically grow slowly.

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    What Causes this Cancer?

    Exposure to commercial tanning beds or lights, and sunlight's ultraviolet radiation causes damage to the skin cell's DNA.

    This damage ischeek squamous cell carcinoma  cumulative, so as a person spends more time exposed to ultraviolet radiation, their risk of developing cheek squamous cell carcinoma is increased. Other things that can increase a person's risk includes:

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    Risk Factors of this Cancer

    Several things can increase a person's chance of developing this skin cancer on their cheek. These include:

    • Chronic sun exposure
    • Being an older adult (this cancer is most often diagnosed in those 66 years of age and older)
    • Personal history of skin cancer
    • Xeroderma pigmentosum (rare genetic disorder)
    • Skin injury of inflammation
    • Having fair skin
    • Being male
    • Having a weakened immune system
    • Smoking
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    Diagnosing this Cancer

    The doctor will perform a full physical exam and talk to the patient about their medical history. The doctor will then thoroughly inspect the skin and the lesion in question. The doctor will often want to further examine the lesion and to do this he or she will biopsy it. They will send off the sample to a pathologist to determine whether it is cancerous or not.

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    Treating this Cancer

    A relatively minor surgery is usually all that is needed to treat squamous cell carcinoma on the cheek. Occasionally, a topical medication can be used. The treatment method used will depend on the location, size, and aggressiveness of the tumor. The following can be used to treat this cancer:

    • Freezing: Freezing and removing cancerous cells.
    • Laser therapy: Growths are vaporized with an intense beam of light.
    • Radiation therapy: Using radiation to shrink and kill cancer cells and growths.
    • Simple excision: Cutting out the cancerous tissue and a small area of the skin surrounding it.
    • Mohs surgery: Removes the tumor, layer by layer. Each layer is examined and once the doctor gets down to healthy tissue, he or she stops removing tissue.
    • Chemotherapy: Using lotions or creams that contain anti-cancer drugs and applying them to the affected area of the cheek. These are only used for cancers that are very superficial.
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    Mayo Clinic. (2009). Squamous Cell Carcinoma. Retrieved on June 22, 2010 from the Mayo Clinic:

    Skin Cancer Net. (2010). Squamous Cell Carcinoma: What it Looks Like. Retrieved on June 22, 2010 from Skin Cancer Net:

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    Image Credits

    DNA: svilen001 –