Squamous cell cancer is the 2nd most common type of skin cancer. It usually begins in the top layer of the skin and initially is always a flat lesion. Squamous cells are found all over the body and play a major role in lining the surface of the skin and many organs in the body. Squamous cell cancers can occur in any part of the body.
Each year about a quarter million individuals are diagnosed with a squamous cell cancer in the USA. The cancer is most commonly seen after the 5th decade of life. In some cases the cancer starts off as an innocuous skin lesion or a precursor skin cancer (Actinic keratosis). Unlike the Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC), squamous cell cancer can spread both locally on the skin and systemically in the body
These cancers are about 1/5th less common than Basal cell cancers. Like BCC, these cancers are also common in fair skinned individuals and those who have had a prolonged history of sun exposure. These people lack pigmentation, which protects the skin from damaging ultraviolet rays. Both genders are affected, but because men have more outdoor occupations, there is a slightly higher incidence in males who work as gardeners and farmers.
These cancers almost always occur on the sun exposed areas of the body which include the
- upper shoulders
- lower lips
- back of the hands
However, squamous cell cancers can also occur on non sun exposed areas of the body like the groin, genitals and abdomen.
Squamous cell cancer of the skin may either appear as a red nodule (pimple-like) or a flat scaly crusted lesion. In any cases, if the lesions persist, the suspicion for a cancer should always be maintained especially if one has had a history of long sun exposure.
When confined to the skin, these cancers can be cured with treated. However, if the diagnosis is missed or the treatment is delayed, these skin cancers are usually locally destructive.
More aggressive types of squamous cell carcinomas, especially those on the lips and ears can spread to the lymph nodes and other internal organs. About 3000 individuals die each year from Squamous cell carcinoma of the skin which has spread.