Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC) is the second most common type of skin cancer, second only to Basal Cell Carcinoma. It is so common that we see this type of skin cancer many times a day in our Sonoma County Dermatology practice here in Northern California. What causes squamous cell carcinoma? The very top upper layer of living cells in your skin is made up of squamous cells (this is your skin’s epidermis). Sun exposure causes damage to the DNA of these cells. A cell with DNA damage will then grow uncontrolled, which is what a cancer is. Like all cancer cells, this uncontrolled growth ultimately will invade and damage vital structures in the body like muscle and bone. Squamous cell carcinoma of the skin also has a small risk of spreading to lymph nodes and internal organs of the body. This is why it’s important to catch them early! People with a lot of cumulative sun exposure tend to get SCCs. Some people are more prone to them than others including people with fair skin. Squamous cell skin cancers often start as “pre-cancers” called actinic keratoses. You may be familiar with the handy little liquid nitrogen gun that we dermatologists are infamous for using to spray-treat these pre-cancerous growths. We do this in an effort to prevent you from developing a squamous cell carcinoma. Have you ever noticed that you usually get this treatment most often on those parts of your skin where you have had the most sun exposure over the years like your face, neck, ears and the back of our hands? These are areas with the telltale signs of sun damage such as wrinkles, broken blood vessels, thin skin, and sun freckles. Squamous cell skin cancers can also grow on any part of your skin, including inside the mouth, on the lips or genitals, your legs and feet, etc. Understand that it’s not just sun exposure that causes squamous cell cancers, but sun is the biggest cause and the most preventable cause. What are the signs of squamous cell carcinoma?
- A rough, pink bump
- A sore that doesn’t heal
- A scaly pink patch of skin
- A rough growth under or next to the nails
- A warty growth that pop up fast or grows like a horn and is tender