Middle-aged and elderly persons, especially those with fair complexions and frequent sun exposure, are most like to be affected. If treated in a timely manner, it is uncommon for skin SCC to spread to other areas of the body. Squamous cell carcinomas often arise from small sandpaper-like growths called solar or actinic keratoses.
Ultraviolet light exposure (through the sun or tanning parlors) greatly increases the chance of developing skin cancer. Persons with light skin who sunburn easily are at highest risk although anyone can get squamous cell carcinoma. With increasing age, the risk of developing skin cancer grows. Heavy sun exposure and severe sunburns as a child may especially increase the likelihood of skin cancer. Many less common skin conditions also predispose individuals to the development of SCCs and include conditions such as organ transplantation, chronic skin ulcers, prior x-ray treatment (e.g., for acne in the 1950s), arsenic ingestion, and toxic exposure to tars and oils.
An SCC generally appears as a crusted or scaly area of the skin, with a red, inflamed base. SCC can present as a growing tumor, a non-healing ulcer or just as a crust. A skin biopsy for microscopic examination is usually necessary to confirm the diagnosis.
SCCs are common in sun-exposed areas, like the face, neck and arms. The scalp, backs of hands and ears are especially common. However, SCC can occur anywhere on the body, even on the lips, inside the mouth and on the genitalia.
Usually these skin cancers are locally destructive. If left untreated, squamous cell carcinoma can destroy much of the tissue surrounding the tumor and may result in the loss of a nose or ear. In certain aggressive types of SCC, especially those on the lips and ears, or those that are left untreated, the tumor can spread to the lymph nodes and other organs, resulting in approximately 2,500 deaths each year in the United States.
SCC can be prevented by avoidance of ultraviolet light. Outdoor activity should be avoided between late morning and early afternoon, tanning parlors should be shunned, and wide brimmed hats should be used along with other protective clothing. Sunscreens with SPF 15 or higher and UVA block should be applied regularly even for a brief exposure.
Dermatologists use a variety of different surgical treatment options depending on the location of the tumor, size of the tumor, microscopic characteristics of the tumor, health of the patient and other factors. Surgical excision to remove the entire cancer is the most commonly used treatment option.