Squamous Cell Carcinoma: Identification, Causes and Types

November 12, 2012

Squamous Cell Carcinoma: Identification, Causes and Types

“Squama” is a Latin worm meaning “fish or reptile scales.” This gives you some indication of what squamous cell carcinoma cells looks like. In order to diagnose this cancer, doctors need to get a skin biopsy. By observing the scaly cells under a microscope, they can quickly identify this cancer. This is a type of nonmelanoma skin cancer that can be fatal because the cancer cells often spread to other parts of the body. Squamous cells normally are healthy and non-cancerous. Squamous cells are located in the skin, in the lining of some internal organs and areas in the digestive system and the lungs. Causes Skin cancer is thought to be caused by constant damage to the skin, often in the form of ultraviolet radiation from sunlight or receiving too many X-rays. The typical patient that suffers any form of skin cancer is a middle-aged fair-skinned female that has undergone sun tanning or used artificial tanning machines to keep a dark tan. It is vitally important for people to wear sunscreen and limit their time in strong sunlight to avoid getting skin cancer like squamous cell carcinoma. Getting constant sunburns is another factor thought to contribute to skin cancer. The skin becomes so damaged that it develops tumors. Other risk factors for skin cancer include old age and contact with corrosive chemicals or arsenic. Some people with the human papilloma virus (HPV) may cause genital wart-like cancers in or around the anus and genitalia. People who received severe injuries such as burns tend may have skin cancers appear on their scar tissue.


There are many different types of squamous cell carcinoma, but people usually get one of four types.

Bowenoid papulosis are a type of genital wart that happens to people with Bowen’s disease. In Bowen’s disease where skin on the abdomen or limbs often becomes scaly and covered with a crusty substance. Affected skin patches are usually more than 1 inch across. This is an early form of squamous cell carcinoma. Treating it immediately almost guarantees that it will not spread to other parts of the body.

Actinic chelitis is another early form of cancer on the lower lip. The lip becomes red and scaly. The usual demarcation of lip and skin disappears, so it becomes difficult to see where the lower lip ends and facial skin begins.

Actinic keratosis or solar keratosis can occur on many different parts of the face, scalp and the backs of the hands. Affected patches of skin are painful, covered in rough, red or dark pink bumps. Over time, these affected skin patches become thicker and more painful. This is a type of cancer that can spread to other parts of the body.

Keratoacanthoma forms skin lumps that appear like flesh-colored volcanoes. They are hill-shaped with a large depression in the center. These hills grow rapidly. Some oncologists and doctors may not classify this as a true squamous cell carcinoma but a pre-cancerous condition, but it should be removed from the skin and treated like a cancer to avoid the appearance of true cancer cells.


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