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Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Health Guide
Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC)
This is the second most common form of skin cancer in New Zealand. It occurs most commonly in those over the age of fifty and in sun exposed areas. People with fair hair and pale skin have a higher incidence of squamous cell carcinoma than darker individuals.

What is SCC?
SCC, describes the type of lesion associated with this form of skin cancer. Squamous refers to the shape of the affect skin cells, the ephitelial layer of cells (or the outermost layer of skin), are affected and these cells tend to be flattened, disc shaped cells - or squames. Carcinoma refers to the cancerous change of normal ephitelial cells.

What Does It Look Like?
SCC's may start as a flat area on the skin that may be scaly that thickens and may also bleed or ulcerate. It grows over a period of months and may be sore to touch. Because they are from the upper most layer of skin the most prominent feature is usually the white scaly surface that is usually not pigmented but may involve a previosly pigmented area of skin. SCC's may also be found in the mouth, with the sides of the tongue and the lip being most common sites - here SCC's appear as ulcers that fail to heal over 2 or more weeks. It is very important that long lasting ulcers be looked at by a dental surgeon.

Risk Factors
Squamous cell carcinomas, like all cancers, are the result of a change in normal cells leading to over proliferation - that is, normal controls fail and the cells reproduce themselves uncontrollably. Risks factors include:

  • over-exposure to sunlight leading to frequent sunburns - overexposure to solar radiation is a major cause of cell damage, occasionally cell DNA can be damaged to the point where the control factors are destroyed leading to cancerous change. It is important to avoid harsh sunlight and always use sunblock (SPF 15+) if you are planning long periods of time outdoors. Even cloudy days will allow enough radiation through to burn you!
  • smoking, chewing tobacco - these are common factors in oral cancer, the form of SCC's seen in the mouth.

If a doctor diagnoses an SCC, the treatment is likely to be surgical so that the entire lesion can be removed. Alternatively in some elderly or debilitated patients radioltherapy may be used. Radiotherapy is also used in particular sites of the body. Always see a physician immediately, should a suspicous mark or ulcer form on your skin.

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