Author: Michael Housley, PA-C
Skin Cancer is the most common cancer in the U.S. According to The Skin Cancer Foundation, 9,500 people are diagnosed with skin cancer every day. I’m not here to scare you with stats. Today, I’d like to educate you on one of the common types of skin cancers.
Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common type of skin cancer found in the world. Initially, they are not life-threatening, but can spread within the body if given time to do so. They can be treated by a handful of options. Surgical excision is the most common treatment, but size and location can influence which treatment is needed in each case.
Squamous cell carcinoma most commonly presents as a red, crusted, or scaly patch on the skin. Occasionally they have an ulcer within the lesion. They often are found in areas with high sun-exposure, such as on the face, lips, ears, neck, arms, chest, shoulders, and back. They can also be found in places you might not suspect like the scalp, legs, or genitalia. It is important to have a yearly full skin exam, where all your skin is examined for potential skin cancer.
When a skin cancer is suspected, a biopsy of the lesion will be taken. First the area is anesthetized (made numb) with a small injection, the piece needed is then taken with an instrument, and afterwards a bandage is then placed. This takes only a small amount of time to perform, one to two minutes from start to finish is typical. The tissue is then sent off to a dermatopathologist who will evaluate the specimen under a microscope to determine the official diagnosis.
Once a diagnosis is made, the treatment plan can be determined. Usually, the plan is simple surgical excision, a process used to remove the entire defect with a margin of clear skin around and below the cancer. The area is then closed with sutures and a bandage is placed. This treatment often takes 30-45 minutes start to finish. Other options are Mohs Surgery, radiation therapy, laser surgery, or destructive techniques. Destructive techniques include topical creams, liquid nitrogen, or electrodessication and curettage; these are less commonly used as they have a higher recurrence rate and scarring can be more pronounced.
Mohs Surgery is typically used on larger cancers and/or in more delicate locations. This is a longer process, which can take anywhere from two to five hours. During this procedure most of the time is spent waiting in between sessions while the tissue is being evaluated by our Fellowship-Trained Mohs Surgeon.
Who is at risk to develop squamous cell carcinoma? The short answer is everyone who has a history of sun exposure, but most specifically people with fair skin, blonde or red hair, blue or green eyes, a family history of skin cancer, a weakened immune system, or a history of radiation therapy.
Squamous cell carcinoma skin cancer has the potential to become life-threatening if it is not treated in a timely manner and at the earliest stage possible.
So, what can you do to prevent squamous cell skin cancer? When it comes to skin cancer, prevention is key. Use protective clothing (UPF), avoid sun exposure at peak hours (10 a.m. –2 p.m.), and lather on the sunscreen all year round (winter or summer, rain or shine). Use a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 and reapply every few hours. Particularly, if you plan on being outdoors for an extended period, including those winter ski trips.
For more tips see our blog post about skin cancer prevention. If you have any concerns about new or growth of spots/moles, book an appointment online.
About Our Provider
Michael Housley is a Certified Physician Assistant. He has been treating patients at Dermatology Clinic of Idaho in Boise since 2016. He has Diplomate Fellow status from the Society of Dermatology Physician Assistants and is certified by the National Committee on Certification of Physician Assistance (NCCPA). Schedule your appointment with Michael to learn more about skin cancer here