As the name implies, Squamous cell cancer is characterized by the unbridled growth of squamous cells and it primarily manifests itself on the skin. That’s because squamous cells are basically the building blocks of the topmost layer of your skin and they’re flat and thin in appearance. SCC usually comes about when these cells multiply at a fast rate and are a result of unprecedented DNA changes.
About 700, 000 Americans are diagnosed with SCC on a yearly basis, making this the second most prevalent form of skin cancer, as confirmed by the Skin Cancer Foundation.
SCC is easy to notice, as it usually starts out with the formation of skin warts, open sores, red patches or scaly skin that’s really hard to miss. It’s important to note here that SCC can literally show up on any part of your skin. However, it does have a tendency of showing up in the areas of your skin that get the most UV radiation, and this often happens as a result of being in direct sunlight, or from using tanning beds and lamps.
If you notice any of the symptoms that we’ve described, it’s important to consult with your doctor immediately so that you can avoid any further growths. In fact, early detection and treatment is the best way to avoid further complications of this condition.
Different Types of Skin Cancer
The skin is not only the largest organ on your body, but it’s also made up of many different layers. First, there’s the epidermis, which is the topmost layer of skin that we can observe. This layer of your skin is a combination of melanocytes, basal cells and squamous cells, which are in a state of constant shedding and renewal.
That is until some of these cells undergo a DNA transformation, at which point they might start to proliferate at an unusual rate leading to skin cancer. Typically, there are three types of skin cancers known to man, namely; malignant melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, and squamous cell carcinoma.
Squamous Cell Cancer
As mentioned, squamous cells are what make up the uppermost layer of your skin and as such, their job is to protect the layers underneath. SCC typically happens as a result of frequent exposure to UV radiation, which is why it usually occurs on the hands, face, ears and décolleté. However, this doesn’t mean that it cannot appear in other parts of the body, because it certainly can.
Basal Cell Cancer
Just under the Squamous cells are basal cells, which are responsible for generating new and fresh skin cells to replace old ones that have shed. Basal cells cancer typically occurs as a result of constant exposure to UV rays, and it is the most prevalent type of skin cancer in the US according to the American Cancer Society.
BCC is slow-growing cancer that takes time to notice and you will see it spreading to other body parts apart from the face, hands, and neck. That said, if you spend too much time without treating it, it might end up spreading into your bones and other bodily tissues as well.
The melanocyte cells are lodged deep within the epidermis and are basically responsible for melanin production, as implied by their name. Also, melanin refers to skin pigmentation just in case you were wondering.
Malignant melanoma is characterized by an uncontrollable growth of the melanocyte cells, and even though this is not as common a skin cancer as basal and squamous cell cancers, it is still very dangerous and should not be left untreated; otherwise, it will continue to grow uncontrollably.
Squamous Cell Cancer Symptoms
As previously mentioned, SCC typically appears skin parts that receive the most UV radiation exposure, i.e. face, hands and ears. In some cases, it can appear in other areas too, such as the genitals, anal area and even in the mouth.
Initially, you’ll notice reddish patches on your skin or it will get scaly as the condition develops. In time this might end up growing into a raised bump that continues to proliferate, crust and even bleed if left untreated for too long. If this type of cancer manifests in the mouth, then you’ll notice that it looks like a white patch or some type of mouth ulcer.
Sometimes, it even manifests as an extension of an existing birthmark, mole or scar, and if you’ve got skin lesions that aren’t healing as usual, then you might be developing SCC.
If you notice any of the symptoms we’ve mentioned, book an appointment with your doctor or a dermatologist immediately. The best way to avoid worse complications of this condition is to nip it in the bud while it’s still early.
What Causes Squamous Cell Cancer?
The primary cause of skin cancer is a mutation of skin cell DNA. As the skin starts to mutate, atypical and unbridled cell growth occurs and when this happens to the squamous cells in your skin, it is known as SCC.
These unusual DNA mutations are caused by exposure to UV radiation, which occurs whenever you use a tanning bed or lamp, and also because of overexposure to direct sunlight.
The more UV exposure you get, the higher your chances of developing SCC and other types of skin cancer, which is not to say that it can’t develop in people who don’t spend as much time in tanning beds or in direct sunlight. In fact, people with weakened immune systems may have an even worse skin cancer risk than those who get UV exposure, and the same goes for those who are born with a natural predisposition to skin cancer. Radiation treatment is another risk factor to look out for.
Other influences on the development of squamous cells carcinoma include:
Fair Skin. Those with less melanin or skim pigment have a higher risk of developing SCC as their skin is unable to provide them with adequate protection from UV radiation damage. Having light-colored eyes, red or blond hair, as well as skin that easily gets sunburnt or freckled can also increase your chances of developing skin cancer. However, this doesn’t mean that people with darker skin cannot develop SCC, only that their risk factor is lower.
Excessive Sun Exposure. Constant exposure to UV sun rays can also increase your risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma, especially if you’re someone who enjoys spending time in the sun without using sunscreen or wearing protective clothing.
Use of Tanning Beds. If you think using tanning beds as an alternative to sun tanning will protect you from SCC, think again. Using indoor tanning beds is equally contributive to the development of SCC as being out in the sun.
A History of Sunburns. If you’ve ever experienced sun burnt skin as a child or a teenager, then you may have a higher chance of developing squamous cells carcinoma, and the same goes for blistering sunburns that occur in adulthood as well.
A Personal History of Precancerous Skin Lesions. Conditions such as Bowen’s disease or precancerous skin lesions can also increase your SCC risk.
A Personal History of Skin Cancer. Unfortunately, those who’ve had the SCC condition once are even more likely to develop it again.
Weakened Immune System. Anyone with a weakened immune system will definitely be in jeopardy of developing skin cancer. This is especially so for those who’re taking immune suppressant due to organ transplants, as well as sufferers of lymphoma and leukemia.
Rare Genetic Disorder. Unusual skin disorders like xeroderma pigmentosum can also increase the possibility of developing skin cancer because conditions like these make people very sensitive to light.
How is Squamous Cell Cancer Diagnosed?
The first thing that your doctor will do SCC is to perform a physical exam to look for any suspect growth or abnormal areas in your skin. You’ll also be asked about your medical history and a biopsy may be performed to confirm the diagnosis if it is suspected by your physician.
For the biopsy, your doctor will get a small sample of your skin, particularly on the affected area, and then send it to a lab where it will be tested further. The size of the sample varies according to each individual case, but it’s always a good idea to ask your doctor about whether or not this will lead to a biopsy or significant scarring later.
How is Squamous Cell Cancer Treated?
There are different treatments available for SCC.
The treatment you receive will depend on factors like:
- The location of the affected area
- The degree to which cancer has developed
- Your overall health
The best way to heal SCC is to catch it early, because once left untreated for long periods of time, this condition can be very difficult to treat. The good news is that most treatments can be done at your doctor’s office.
- One procedure that your doctor might go with is to remove the abnormal growth from your skin using a scalpel, and they might even remove the tissue surrounding the affected area as well. Then, they’ll immediately take the sample under the microscope to see if it contains cancer cells. Your doctor will repeat this process until there are no more cancer cells.
- An excisional surgery involves the removal of cancer cells and a small part of the skin surrounding the affected area. Afterward, your doctor will stitch the wound up before sending the sample to a lab for further testing.
- Your doctor might also use electrosurgery, which is also referred to as electrodesiccation or curettage. Through this process, the cancer cells are completely incinerated over multiple sessions.
- Cryosurgery, on the other hand, refers to terminating the cancer cells by freezing them in liquid nitrogen. For maximum effectiveness, this treatment is carried out through multiple sessions so that the cancerous cells are completely destroyed.
- Radiation therapy refers to the use of high-energy –rays to eradicate the growth of cancer cells. The machine used for this procedure is aimed specifically on the affected area and the process will be repeated several times a week and can carry on for quite a number of weeks.
Other methods used by doctors to treat SCC include several topical medications, laser surgery, and photodynamic therapy. However, it’s important to note that these methods are not recognized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
- With photodynamic therapy, the physician will apply a certain photosensitizing substance onto the affected area with cancerous cells. A day later the same area will get light exposure for several minutes in order to activate the substance that was applied the day before. This facilitates effective elimination of the cancerous cells in a timely manner.
- As the name implies, laser surgery refers to the use of the laser in order to kill the abnormal skin layer.
- Topical medications are also available to heal skin cancers like SCC and include substances like imiquimod and 5-fluorouracil.
It’s important to note here that you’ll still have to go through follow-up visits after your doctor has successfully treated the SCC. That’s because SCC can easily reoccur, so you’ll also have to be vigilant and make sure that you check your skin once a month for suspicious or cancerous looking growths.
When it comes to the survival rate of SCC, there’s no cookie cutter answer because each case differs from the next. While there is an “average” survival” rate according to the available stats, this data is not exactly specific to individual cases. Squamous cell cancer prognosis depends on a variety of factors, including age, gender, your general response to medical treatments, as well as your current health condition.
Also, most of the available data is not based on updated information or the latest treatments, which have had a significant effect on the prognosis of this condition. For instance, the 2018 stats of lung cancer’s five-year survival rate are actually based on diagnoses from the year 2013. Similarly, approval for most of the effective squamous cells carcinoma treatments was effected either in 2013 or before that, which means that we cannot necessarily rely on these stats to understand how someone might respond to these treatments today.
However, the past five years has seen a lot of improvements in terms of the available cancer treatments for lung-related squamous cell carcinoma. For instance, scientists have developed the Portrazza drug which wasn’t available when most of the available studies were conducted. Therefore, the available data on survival rates is not really indicative of the effects of some of these latest treatments.
So, the moral of the story here is that lung cancer sufferer today have more effective treatment options than before, but the available data does not necessarily reflect this.
Also, lung cancer survival rates differ according to the specific stage of cancer but on average 50% of sufferers typically survive this condition. However, when looking at it from a five-year projection, we find that the survival rate decreases to only 18%. Once again, keep in mind that these numbers are somewhat outdated in that they do not reflect current innovations in treatment which were not available then but are available now.
Estimating Your Prognosis
When considering the issue of prognosis, one must remember that squamous cell lung cancer differs from one patient to the next. For some people, this condition manifests certain molecular characteristics that tend to escalate or reduce the prognosis.
Also, there is ongoing research to try and figure out how to estimate squamous cells carcinoma prognosis in individual patients based on the number of tumor cells that are found circulating in a liquid biopsy.
Getting diagnosed with any type of cancer is a scary experience and might leave you with feelings of isolation and depression. Anyone who gets diagnosed with cancer needs to have a solid support structure to get them through what will be a very tough time.
It also helps to be proactive about the situation, and you can do this by performing your own research on the condition, as having a better understanding of it can empower you to cope with it better. These days, there are also support groups available for cancer patients in each community so it might be a good idea to connect with a group in your local area if there is one. Alternatively, you can seek out one of the many online support groups as well.
These groups can be a great source of support and empowerment, as most of them make it a point to keep up with the latest research into cancer, unlike most oncologists who are still operating on outdated knowledge. A few examples of such organizations include the Lung Cancer Alliance, the American Lung Association, Lung Force as well as LUNGevity. If you’re looking to connect with other cancer sufferers and survivors on social media, you can use hashtags like #LCSM, which is an abbreviation for lung cancer social media. If you’re a young adult lung cancer patient that’s under the age of 50, then you should join the age-appropriate Bonnie J. Addario Lung Cancer Foundation.
Most importantly, you should strive to be your own biggest cheerleader through this process. As cancer treatments continue to develop rapidly, more and more patients are being encouraged to take a proactive approach in their own treatment. A lot of cancer survivors were able to make it through primarily because of their ability to empower themselves with education on the subject.
For access to advanced lung cancer specialists that can give you a second opinion or updated info, be sure to consult with designated cancer centers that are a part of the National Cancer Institute.
If Somebody You Know Has Squamous Cell Lung Cancer
Having to deal with the situation of a loved one who is diagnosed with cancer can be tough. It is not uncommon for those affected to feel helpless as they don’t know what to do to help the situation. One of the best ways to help is to offer very specific help instead of vaguely saying “I’m here if you need me”, although that too can make a difference.
What’s the Outlook for People with Squamous Cell Cancer?
The earlier the diagnosis of SCC happens, the better. When left untreated for too long, SCC can spread to your organs and even the lymph nodes, and this can severely lethal for you.
As mentioned earlier, having a weakened immune system can also increase your chances of developing SCC, and your immune system may be weakened due to health problems and conditions like leukemia or HIV/AIDS.
How to Prevent Squamous Cell Cancer?
The good news is that there are some steps that you can take to prevent squamous cells carcinomas, such as:
Stay out of the Sun During the Day. The sun’s rays are strongest between the hours of 10 AM and 4 PM, especially in the region of North America.
Always Wear Sun Protection. For best results, apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen daily, with an SPF of 15 in the least. When applying the sunscreen, be generous and make sure that you smear it on all the exposed areas of your skin, including your face, neck, hands, ears, and lips.
Dress in Protective Clothing. Whenever you step outside, make sure to put on clothes that cover your arms and legs, and make sure that they’re made from tightly woven fabric so that they can effectively keep out the sun. A wide-brimmed sun hat and good quality sunglasses are also important if you want to keep yourself safe from developing squamous cell carcinoma. For the next level of protective clothing, ask for advice and suggestions from your dermatologist.
Try to Stay Away from Tanning Beds. While tanning beds might seem like a safer and more convenient way to get tan than staying out in the sun, they can actually increase your skin cancer risk significantly.
Pay Constant Attention to How Your Skin Looks. Check your skin regularly for unusual growth or any abnormalities to existing birthmarks, freckles and bumps, especially on the face and neck, as well as the scalp and ears.
Also, be sure to check the chest area, your entire arms, legs, hands, and feet, as well as the genital and anal areas too for any suspicious growths.
Natural Cures for Skin Cancer
There are quite a lot of natural remedies out there that one can use to cure skin cancer, such as:
Fruits and Vegetables. One of the best ways to prevent and cure skin cancer is to consume fruits and vegetables that are high in vitamins A, C, E, antioxidants, selenium, and beta-carotene. This includes things like citrus fruits, broccoli, and carrots.
Anti-Cancerous Food. There are certain foods that contain naturally-occurring anti-cancer compounds, such as grapes, garlic, onions, sea vegetables, whole grains, and soybeans to name but a few. Not only do these foods boost the immune system but they can also help to cure cancer completely.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids. It is well-known that Omega-3 fatty acids work really well in treating cancer, and you can easily incorporate them into your diet by consuming things like fish, olive oil, and fish oil. These foods can even help you to prevent melanoma and other types of skin cancer.
Bloodroot. The Bloodroot herb contains an alkaloid known as sanguinarine, which is very effective at preventing and curing cancer. This herb can also be applied topically to naturally cure skin cancers.
Turmeric. The curcumin compound found in turmeric is very effective at treating a number of health conditions, including skin cancer. This root also has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. For maximum effect, you can ingest it and also apply it onto the affected area by combining it with honey to create an easy to apply paste.
Milk Thistle. Milk Thistle is an effective natural cure for skin cancer, as it helps to boost immunity while also containing antioxidant properties.
Green Tea. Green tea is another widely known remedy for skin cancer because it can help to prevent the unbridled cell growth which is behind cancer, which effectively helps to prevent the formation of malignant skin tumors.
Poke Root. The same compound which causes poke root to have an irritating effect on the skin is also what makes it so effective at killing skin cancer-causing cells. As a result, poke root has been utilized in America to cure skin cancer for decades.
Black Walnut. Another effective skin cancer cure is an herb known as black walnut. The juglone compound which is found on the bark of the herb is known to have potent cancer-fighting properties, and the best part is that you can find this particular compound in tincture form, which makes it easy to apply into the affected area.
Ginkgo. Thanks to its powerful antioxidant properties, Ginkgo is often utilized in conjunction with chemotherapy and radiotherapy to cure skin cancer.
Eggplant. Believe it or not, organic eggplant could be the remedy you need to cure skin cancer! All you need to do is mix it with some organic apple cider vinegar inside a blender until you have a workable paste to apply on the affected area.
Raspberry. Raspberry seed extract has been utilized to cure skin cancer, and it’s often infused into dedicated skin creams that are made to combat the condition.
Coconut Oil and Baking Soda. Combine raw and organic coconut oil with baking soda that’s free from aluminum to create a workable paste that you can apply to the affected area and watch the skin cancer disappear!
Grape Seed. The proanthocyanidins compounds found in grape seed are very effective at skin cancer prevention.
Egg Yolk. The lutein compound contained in egg yolk is also very effective at not only curing but preventing skin cancer as well.
Avoid Meat Products. Red meat and processed food products are one of the biggest contributors to the development of cancer.
Avoid Saccharin and Dairy Products. Eating food products that contain dairy, saccharin, and caffeine can also increase your risk of developing skin cancer.
Avoid Sun Exposure. Another major risk factor for skin factor is exposure to sunlight, especially during mid-day. If you can, rather conduct your outdoor activities when there’s less light during the evening, or protect yourself with SPF and protective clothing.
Apply Sunscreen Lotion. Protect your skin from harmful UV sun rays by applying a sunscreen lotion that has an SPF factor of at least 15.
Wear Sunglasses. Invest in sunglasses that have UVA and UVB protective properties.
If you’ve already been diagnosed with skin cancer, then it might be a good idea to add the natural remedies and foods mentioned above to your daily diet in order to improve your chances of curing the disease. Truth be told, natural remedies are your best defense against skin cancer and they’re very effective at curing this condition.
Preparing for Your Appointment
If you spot a suspicious looking wound or skin lesion, then you should consult with your physician immediately. Your doctor might refer you to a specialist like a dermatologist who will be able to diagnose and treat the condition. Those who’ve had skin cancer before having a higher risk of developing the ailment again, hence they need to be vigilant and go for consistent examinations so that they can catch it early if it happens again.
The following information will help you to prepare for your doctor’s appointment and give you an idea of what will transpire during the consultation:
What You Can Do
Put Your Medical History down in Writing, including a record of all the medical conditions which you have received medical attention for. If you’ve had radiation therapy before, add it to your report no matter how long it has been since the treatment.
Put Your Medical History down in Writing. This includes over-the-counter drugs, prescription drugs, supplements, vitamins and herbal compounds.
Make a List of All the Questions That You Have for Your Doctor.
Ask a Loved One to Accompany You for the Appointment. Ask a family member or a friend to come with you to the appointment so that they can help you to fill in the gaps later when it’s time to remember the information that the doctor gave you during the appointment.