What you should know about squamous cell carcinoma

November 12, 2012

What you should know about squamous cell carcinoma

Squamous cells are found in the surface of the skin and in the lining of the organs and passages of the digestive and respiratory tracks. Squamous cell carcinoma is a cancer that begins in these cells. Under a microscope these cells have an appearance similar to fish scales. This is where is get its name from as the word ‘squama’ is Latin for the scale of a fish or serpent.

Squamous cell carcinoma is more common in men than women and also in people with light skin or a history of sun exposure. It is thought that men are affected more than women because of common hairstyles and outfits. For example squamous cell carcinoma of the ears is more likely to develop in men as their ears are more likely to be exposed and not covered by hair.

Actinic Kerasotes is the initial form for squamous cell carcinoma and are sore, rough, red, bumps most often appearing on the scalp, face, ears and the backs of hands. They often appear where the skin has signs of suffering from skin damage such as mottled or scaly looking areas. As this actinic Kerasotes becomes thicker and more tender, it is invading deeper into the skin to become fully developed squamous cell carcinoma. This process can happen over a number of years and will become worse and more progressive each time is it exposed to direct sunlight.

Arctinic Kerasotes is not the only form of squamous cell carcinoma, which affects the surface of the skin and has not yet developed into the full condition. Actinic cheilitis is another one, which affects the lower lip, causing it to become red and scaly and for the border between the lip and surrounding skin to blur. Another form is called Bowen’s disease, which reveals itself as scaly patches on the truck and extremities. Bowenoid papulosis is the name for the pre-developed form of squamous cell carcinoma, which look like and behave like genital warts to the human eye but when examined under a telescope look like Bowen’s disease.

Squamous cell carcinoma growths often develop from lesions caused by years of sun damage to that part of the body. Regular sun exposure is by far the most important factor in promoting this kind of skin cancer. Additionally, as it is normal for it to take years to develop into cancer, it is common for people who regularly exposed themselves to the sun when they were in there 20’s to develop squamous cell carcinoma decades later. Other factors, which less commonly contribute to squamous cell carcinoma is exposure to x-rays, arsenic and hydrocarbons. Some of the high-risk strains of HPV can also cause the development of squamous cell carcinoma in the anogenital region.

It is possible for squamous cell carcinoma to spread if not treated early on. In order to make a proper diagnosis a biopsy will be performed by removing a small section of the skin for examination under a microscope. There are many kinds of treatment of squamous cell carcinoma, and the one used will depend on the location, size and severity of the cancer. One option is curettage and desiccation, whereby the squamous cell carcinoma is scooped out using a spoon like instrument and then remaining cells in the base have an electric current applied to them. This also controls bleeding so the wound does not require stitching up. There is also surgical excision, where the tumour is cut out and stitched up; radiation therapy, usually used in areas that are difficult to treat with surgery; and cryosurgery, where the squamous cell carcinoma is frozen with liquid nitrogen. There are also medical therapy using creams, which can be used from home to attack cancer cells and stimulate the immune system. These creams mean that surgery can be avoided, however the cure rate is not so high most of the other methods.

Squamous cell carcinoma can be prevented through limiting sun exposure to the skin. When you do have to spend time in the sun, where a wide-brimmed hats and cover up with UVA protection sun-cream, SPF 30 or higher. Re-apply the cream every couple of hours and after swimming or sweating. Avoid sun beds at all times and have regular check up’s to look for changing lesions or moles.

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