What is a Squamous Cell Carcinoma?
- Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC) is a type of skin cancer that usually starts in the skin where the cells multiply and alter the skin’s appearance.
- SCCs are typically slow-growing forms of skin cancer and usually remain in the outer layer of the skin.
- They can differ greatly in their appearance, but most usually appear as a scaly or crusty area of skin or a lump, with a red, inflamed base.
- Squamous cell carcinomas are often tender, but most small SCCs are not usually painful.
- They have the potential to spread to other organs of the body (Metastases), but this is more common if left untreated for a long time.
What causes a Squamous Cell Carcinoma?
Although the cause is not fully understood, there is strong evidence to suggest that Ultra-violet (UV) rays from the sun or sunbeds can damage the skin, which may contribute to the development of a squamous cell carcinoma.
Other less common causes are radiation therapy, trauma, chemicals, and viruses. Some people who have lowered immunity are also at risk.
What types of treatment are used?
Surgery is usually the first choice for treating a suspected squamous cell carcinoma. The most common surgical procedure is to excise the lesion along with some normal looking skin around it. This is normally done as a day case operation, with the patient awake. The diagnosis is then confirmed by sending the lesion away to be examined under a microscope. It may take two or three weeks for the results of the biopsy to be sent back to the consultant. Occasionally, it is necessary to repair the area with a skin graft or other types of plastic surgery.
If your squamous cell carcinoma has been caught early, it is curable. However, if you have had one SCC others may develop in future years. You need to examine your skin for any unusual changes once a month.
- Check your skin monthly for any existing or new skin lumps or moles that enlarge, change colour, bleed, or itch.
- Most changes are harmless, but they may indicate the start of a new skin cancer. See your doctor if in doubt.
- Take care whilst in the sun by wearing protective clothing and using high factor sunscreens (SPF 30+).
- Wearing a hat with a large brim is recommended.
- Avoid strong sunshine between 11am and 3pm.
- Avoid using sunbeds.
- Pass on the message to friends and family about protecting themselves and checking their moles and skin.
Although rare, in a very small percentage of people SCC may recur at the site of removal or in the surrounding skin. Even more rarely they may spread to lymph nodes producing swelling in the neck, armpit, or groin, depending on the site of the initial cancer. You will be given instructions about where and how often you should examine yourself for lumps.
Any new lesion or sore that develops either at or near the site of the original SCC or any lumps noted in the neck, armpit or groin should be reported to your doctor.
Many patients can be discharged once treatment is complete. If you need follow up appointments, which will depend on several factors, this will be discussed with you.
How to contact us
Skin Cancer Clinical Nurse Specialists
© North Bristol NHS Trust. This edition published January 2023. Review due January 2026. NBT002432