Is Squamous Cell Carcinoma Deadly? | Forefront Dermatology

Skin cancer is by far the most common type of cancer and each year there are more new cases of skin cancer than the combined cases of breast, prostate, lung and colon cancer. This translates to one in five Americans developing skin cancer over their lifetime. Following basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common type of skin cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, about 5.4 million basal and squamous cell skin cancers are diagnosed each year in America. Squamous cell carcinoma accounts for ~20% of these cases.

Who is at risk for squamous cell carcinoma?
Skin cancer occurs at every age in persons of every ethnicity and gender. Risk for squamous cell carcinoma increases with the following factors:

  • Ultraviolet light exposure from the sun and indoor tanning
  • History of sunburns, especially during childhood
  • Lighter skin color equating to increased sensitivity to ultraviolet light. Although less common overall in darker skin types, squamous cell carcinoma accounts for a larger proportion of skin cancers in this population.
  • Incidence increases with age
  • Male gender – men are especially at risk after age 60, whereas women account for more skin cancers in those under age 40
  • Personal or family history of skin cancer
  • Human Papillomavirus Virus (HPV) infection
  • Immunosuppression (disease-associated and medication-induced)
  • Within scars from burns or other injuries as well as non-healing wounds of any type

What does squamous cell carcinoma look like?
According to Dr. Rhett Kent, board-certified dermatologist with Forefront Dermatology, “Squamous cell carcinoma often appears as a red scaly patch or bump, or a sore that never fully heals. Patients may find it difficult to distinguish these from benign skin growths. It is important to know that any new, growing and/or changing skin lesion is always concerning for skin cancer. When any of these features are present, it is important to bring them to the attention of your dermatologist urgently to avoid delays in diagnosis and treatment.”

Where does squamous cell carcinoma occur?
“Squamous cell carcinoma is commonly found on areas of the skin that gets frequent sun exposure such as the rim of the ear, scalp, face, neck, arms, legs, chest and back,” added Dr. Kent. “When performing self-examinations for skin cancer, it’s important not to forget places you might not see very well on your own, like your ears, back, the bottoms of your feet and posterior legs.”

Is squamous cell carcinoma fatal?
“Squamous cell carcinoma of the skin is both locally destructive and potentially deadly with the ability to metastasize (spread to other parts of the body). Although the likelihood of squamous cell carcinoma being fatal is low, risk increases with delays in diagnosis,” noted Dr. Kent. “To keep yourself safe, reduce your risk of skin cancer by practicing daily sun protection. Wear broad-brimmed hats, and UV protecting clothing, as well as applying broad-spectrum sunscreen (SPF 30+) at regular intervals. Still these cancers will occur, and it is important to supplement your efforts with a yearly skin examination best performed by a board-certified dermatologist.”

Can squamous cell carcinoma be treated?
“Depending on location and aggressive features, excisional surgery and Mohs surgery, a specialized form of skin cancer surgery, are the standard treatments for squamous cell carcinoma of the skin. If detected early, another procedure known as electrodessication and curettage, which utilizes a mixture of scraping and burning, may be appropriate as well.” stated Dr. Kent. “The cure rate for squamous cell carcinomas that haven’t been treated previously is 93-99% percent based on treatment modality. For an SCC that has recurred or is larger, the cure rate is a little lower.”

Be Proactive
Remember, early detection saves lives and a simple, yearly in-office skin screening with your local board-certified Forefront Dermatologist can truly mean the difference between life and death. Find a dermatologist near you today.