How Serious Is A Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Id had a few skin cancers removed before, all basal cell carcinomas , the most common type. But when I was diagnosed with a squamous cell carcinoma on my scalp, it seemed different, and a little more scary. I asked C. William Hanke, MD, a Mohs surgeon at the Laser and Skin Surgery Center of Indiana and a senior vice president of The Skin Cancer Foundation, what we need to know about this second most common form of skin cancer.
Q: When people talk about nonmelanoma skin cancers, they tend to lump basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas together as the ones that are far less dangerous than melanoma. Should we take SCCs more seriously?
Dr. Hanke: Yes and no. BCCs hardly ever metastasize. Ive seen two cases in my entire career. But when SCCs that havent been treated early get big, then the chance of metastasis becomes real. Its uncommon, but its much more common than in BCC. We see it in our practice. But we dont want to scare people into thinking that just because they have squamous cell, Oh wow, Ive got a chance of metastasis. Remember, the rate is very low. Its just those big ones.
Q: OK, so its rare. But what happens when an SCC does spread?
Q: Whats the usual treatment for SCCs?
Q: How can we detect SCCs as early as possible?
Seek Comprehensive Care If Your Skin Cancer Is Complicated To Treat
Complicated skin cancer may require the expertise of multiple specialists. Plastic surgeons may get involved when the cosmetic challenges are significant. An ocular surgeon or an oculoplastic specialist may be needed if you have an especially difficult-to-treat skin cancer close to the eye. A head and neck surgeon may join your care team if there is nerve involvement or if the cancer is too extensive for local anesthesia.
The beauty of a comprehensive cancer center like MSK is that the expertise is all here, says Dr. Lee. We have a multidisciplinary program especially for people with complex skin cancer. You can usually see all of your doctors on the same day and in the same location. The dermatology team works with you to coordinate your appointments with your schedule.
Which Skin Cancer Grows Fastest
There are three types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Each type has different features that affect how fast they grow. Basal cell carcinomas mostly develop on the face or neck while squamous cells tend to form on areas with lots of sun exposure like your hands and arms. Melanomas can appear almost anywhere but commonly occur in people over 50 years old who have had a lot of unprotected sunlight exposure when younger.
The faster-growing type is melanoma though this also tends to be more aggressive than other forms which means it spreads quickly if not treated early enough. This makes awareness campaigns about seeking treatment for any suspicious spots particularly important as you want these caught before they become harmful.
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Basal Cell And Squamous Cell Carcinomas
Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are the most common types of cancer, but also the least likely to spread. In particular, BCCs rarely spread beyond the initial tumor site. However, left untreated, BCCs can grow deeper into the skin and damage surrounding skin, tissue, and bone. Occasionally, a BCC can become aggressive, spreading to other parts of the body and even becoming life threatening. Also, the longer you wait to have your BCC treated, the more likely it is to return after treatment. Like BCCs, SCCs are highly curable when caught and treated early. However, if left to develop without treatment, an SCC can become invasive to skin and tissue beyond the original skin cancer site, causing disfigurement and even death. Over 15,000 Americans die each year from SCCs. And even if untreated carcinomas dont result in death, they can lead to large, open lesions on the skin that can cause discomfort, embarrassment, and infection.
Surgical Procedures For Basal & Squamous Cell Skin Cancers
Basal or squamous cell skin cancers may need to be removed with procedures such as electrodessication and curettage, surgical excision, or Mohs surgery, with possible reconstruction of the skin and surrounding tissue.
Squamous cell cancer can be aggressive, and our surgeons may need to remove more tissue. They may also recommend additional treatments for advanced squamous cell cancer, such as medications or radiation therapyenergy beams that penetrate the skin, killing cancer cells in the body.
Basal cell cancer is less likely to become aggressive, but if it does, our doctors may use surgery and other therapies to treat it.
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There Are Three Ways That Cancer Spreads In The Body
- Tissue. The cancer spreads from where it began by growing into nearby areas.
- Lymph system. The cancer spreads from where it began by getting into the lymph system. The cancer travels through the lymph vessels to other parts of the body.
- Blood. The cancer spreads from where it began by getting into the blood. The cancer travels through the blood vessels to other parts of the body.
Does Skin Cancer Kill You
Malignant melanoma is a highly aggressive skin cancer that tends to spread to other parts of the body. All other types of skin cancers have the potential to be locally invasive and spread to other parts of the body. Nonmelanoma skin cancers are comparatively less aggressive. Self-examination of the skin for suspicious changes, changes in existing moles, persistent inflammation, ulcers, etc. can help detect skin cancer at its earliest stages. Early detection of skin cancer gives the patient the greatest chance of having successful skin cancer treatment.
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How Does Skin Cancer Kill
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Screening For Skin Cancer
Again, the best way to screen for skin cancer is knowing your own skin. If you are familiar with the freckles, moles, and other blemishes on your body, you are more likely to notice quickly if something seems unusual.
To help spot potentially dangerous abnormalities, doctors recommend doing regular self-exams of your skin at home. Ideally, these self-exams should happen once a month, and should involve an examination of all parts of your body. Use a hand-held mirror and ask friends or family for help so as to check your back, scalp, and other hard-to-see areas of skin. If you or someone else notices a change on your skin, set up a doctors appointment to get a professional opinion.
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Adult Soft Tissue Sarcoma Is Diagnosed With A Biopsy
If your doctor thinks you may have a soft tissue sarcoma, a biopsy will be done. The type of biopsy will be based on the size of the tumor and where it is in the body. There are three types of biopsy that may be used:
- Incisional biopsy: The removal of part of a lump or a sample of tissue.
- Core biopsy: The removal of tissue using a wide needle.
- Excisional biopsy: The removal of an entire lump or area of tissue that doesnt look normal.
Samples will be taken from the primary tumor, lymph nodes, and other suspicious areas. A pathologist views the tissue under a microscope to look for cancer cells and to find out the grade of the tumor. The grade of a tumor depends on how abnormal the cancer cells look under a microscope and how quickly the cells are dividing. High-grade tumors usually grow and spread more quickly than low-grade tumors.
Because soft tissue sarcoma can be hard to diagnose, patients should ask to have tissue samples checked by a pathologist who has experience in diagnosing soft tissue sarcoma.
The following tests may be done on the tissue that was removed:
How Do I Use Imiquimod
You apply the cream to the AKs, skin cancer, or warts. Most patients apply imiquimod before bedtime. You must leave imiquimod on your skin for several hours and then wash it off.
Be sure to follow the directions carefully. Using more than directed can cause unwanted skin reactions. If you use the medicine less often than prescribed, it may not work.
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See A Suspicious Spot See A Dermatologist
If you find a spot on your skin that could be skin cancer, its time to see a dermatologist. Found early, skin cancer is highly treatable. Often a dermatologist can treat an early skin cancer by removing the cancer and a bit of normal-looking skin.
Given time to grow, treatment for skin cancer becomes more difficult.
How Serious Is My Cancer
If you have melanoma, the doctor will want to find out how far it has spread. This is called staging. Your doctor will want to find out the stage of your cancer to help decide what type of treatment is best for you.
The stage describes the growth or spread of the melanoma through the skin. It also tells if it has spread to other parts of your body.
Your cancer can be stage 0, 1, 2, 3, or 4. The lower the number, the less the cancer has spread. A higher number, like stage 4, means a more serious cancer that has spread beyond the skin. Be sure to ask the doctor about the cancer stage and what it means for you.
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Symptoms Of Metastatic Cancer
Metastatic cancer does not always cause symptoms. When symptoms do occur, what they are like and how often you have them will depend on the size and location of the metastatic tumors. Some common signs of metastatic cancer include:
- pain and fractures, when cancer has spread to the bone
- headache, seizures, or dizziness, when cancer has spread to the brain
- shortness of breath, when cancer has spread to the lung
- jaundice or swelling in the belly, when cancer has spread to the liver
Skin Cancer Undiagnosed For Over 10 Years
The patient had neglected his illness for more than 10 years, says a case report in the International Open Access Journal of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons .
The patient was a man, 48, living in a U.S. city. The medical attention was sought out due to the insistence of a family member, continues the paper.
The cancer was basal cell carcinoma that had grown to 10 centimeters on his scalp. Somehow this patient didnt mind living with an ulcerating, oozing and bleeding growth on his head.
Had he not sought treatment, he could have lived many more years barring death from an unrelated cause such as a heart attack or car accident.
With that all said, there is no data on what the record is for how long a person lived with an undiagnosed skin cancer.
Certainly you can imagine there must be many cases of people all over the world, living in undeveloped societies with scant medical care, let alone skin cancer awareness, whove been living for over 20 years with a slowly growing bump or patch.
This would describe basal cell carcinoma.
But a person will not get away for too long with an undiagnosed melanoma, as it WILL spread and cause symptoms of that spread, such as respiratory problems or ongoing severe headaches .
Dr. Musick says that the following are common ways that skin cancer shows up:
Steven Musick, MD
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In Situ And Early Stage Cancer
The sections below will look at early stage cancer in more detail.
This means that cancers or tumors are in situ, or where they originally developed. It means that they have not spread.
This stage is usually highly curable, often through the surgical removal of the tumor or cancerous cells.
Often called early stage cancer, stage 1 cancers or tumors are small and not deeply embedded in surrounding tissues. They have also not spread to other parts of the body or the lymph system.
People with stage 0 or 1 cancers may not notice any symptoms. Others may experience symptoms or notice changes to their body, such as:
- abnormal lumps, bumps, firmness, or swelling
- skin changes, such as new or changing moles, itchiness, scaliness, or becoming dimpled, discolored, darkened, puckered, or inflamed
- a cough or hoarseness that does not improve
- abnormal nipple or genital discharge or changes
- difficulty or pain when urinating
- blood in the urine or stool
- unexplained bruising
- heartburn or indigestion that does not improve
- unexplained, severe exhaustion that does not improve
- unexplained fever or night sweats
- bleeding, pain, or numbness in the mouth or lips
- headaches and seizures
- white or red patches on the tongue or in the mouth
- sores that do not heal
- yellowing of the skin and eyes
- unexplained weight loss or gain
Stem Cell Or Bone Marrow Transplant
A stem cell transplant, sometimes called bone marrow transplant, replaces damaged blood-forming cells with healthy ones. The procedure takes place following large-dose chemotherapy or radiation therapy to kill cancer cells and to stop your stem cells from producing cancerous cells.
Stem cell transplants can be used for several types of cancer, including multiple myeloma and some kinds of leukemia.
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How To Treat Skin Cancer
Medically reviewed by
Last Updated: July 8, 2021References
This article was medically reviewed by . Dr. Litza is a board certified Family Medicine Physician in Wisconsin. She is a practicing Physician and taught as a Clinical Professor for 13 years, after receiving her MD from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health in 1998.There are 9 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been viewed 34,877 times.
Skin cancer is best defined as the abnormal growth of skin cells, often due to too much sun exposure, but there are other factors to consider also.XTrustworthy SourceMayo ClinicEducational website from one of the world’s leading hospitalsGo to source There are three main types of skin cancer, which are named based on which layer of skin is affected: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Melanoma is the rarest form, but also the most deadly type because it’s most likely to spread to other parts of the body. Checking your skin for unusual changes on a regular basis can help detect cancer in its early stages, which gives you the best chance of successful treatment.
When Do Signs And Symptoms First Appear
Typically, cancer signs and symptoms first appear when the cancerous tumor or mass has grown large enough that it begins to push against nearby organs and tissue, blood vessels, and nerves.
This can lead to pain, a change in how the nearby organs function, or both. A brain tumor pressing against the optic nerve will affect vision, for example.
Some cancers are fast moving, such as liver and pancreatic cancers. Prostate cancer, however, is usually slow moving. This is why many older men with prostate cancer forego treatment theyre more likely to die with prostate cancer than because of it.
Screenings for certain cancers should be part of your normal preventive healthcare. These include cancers of the:
Your age, sex, family history, and your own medical history will dictate when routine screenings should begin and how often they should be done.
If youre concerned about symptoms associated with various cancers, then you shouldnt hesitate to see your doctor. You can connect to a physician in your area using the Healthline FindCare tool.
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Does It Hurt To Have Skin Cancer Removed
Are skin cancer treatments painful? Generally speaking, cancer treatments are rarely painful. Depending on the treatment process you undergo, there may be some discomfort or pain involved during cancer removal but most people find that their skin cancer doctor will prescribe medications to manage any side effects associated with these medications which can include nausea and vomiting, dizziness, and even drowsiness.
Skin Color And Being Exposed To Sunlight Can Increase The Risk Of Basal Cell Carcinoma And Squamous Cell Carcinoma Of The Skin
Anything that increases your chance of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get cancer not having risk factors doesnt mean that you will not get cancer. Talk with your doctor if you think you may be at risk.
Risk factors for basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma of the skin include the following:
- Being exposed to natural sunlight or artificial sunlight over long periods of time.
- Having a fair complexion, which includes the following:
- Fair skin that freckles and burns easily, does not tan, or tans poorly.
- Blue, green, or other light-colored eyes.
- Red or blond hair.
Although having a fair complexion is a risk factor for skin cancer, people of all skin colors can get skin cancer.
Older age is the main risk factor for most cancers. The chance of getting cancer increases as you get older.
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