Squamous cell skin cancer, what is it?

May is national melanoma/skin cancer detection and prevention month

FunInSunThe summer season is fast upon us, and for many, that equates to more time spent outside. The sunshine and warmer weather is a welcome reprieve from the long winter. With this sunny weather comes the reminder to protect our skin from the adverse effects of getting too much sun. Too much sun exposure to the skin can cause cancer to start in the squamous cells of the skin.

Squamous cell skin cancer is the second most common type of skin cancer, and typically the least known. Many patients that are newly diagnosed have never heard of it. The upper layer of our skin (the epidermis) is comprised mostly of skin cells called squamous cells. Risk factors for developing squamous cell skin cancer include:

  • Ultraviolet (UV) rays from sun exposure and tanning beds
  • Light or fair skin
  • Older age
  • Men are twice as likely to develop squamous cell skin cancer
  • Previous diagnosis of squamous cell skin cancer
  • Weakened immune system (taking steroids, history of organ transplant)

Signs and symptoms include:

  • Persistent thick, rough or scaly patch on the skin
  • Crusting or bleeding of this lesion
  • Wart like appearance
  • Elevated skin lesion with a depressed center that may bleed
  • May rapidly grow in size

Squamous cell skin cancer rarely spreads to other parts of the body when treated promptly. Typical treatment may include: simple excision of the lesion, burning, freezing (cryosurgery) or Mohs surgery.

Protection is the key in preventing skin cancer. Consistency is also important, as many people don’t follow these steps on a regular basis.

Prevention measures include:

  • Sunscreen
    • Broad-spectrum (protects against both UVA & UVB rays)
    • SPF (sun protection factor) of at least 30 or higher
    • Apply every two hours while outside
    • Make sure you use enough (at least a palmful)
  • Clothing – although clothing doesn’t block 100% of rays, it still offers a great deal of protection
    • Long-sleeved shirts, pants and long skirts are best
    • Tightly woven fabric offers more protection than a looser weave
    • Darker colors offers more protection than lighter colors
    • Dry fabric offers more protection than wet fabric
  • Hats
    • Wide brimmed hats are best
  • Sunglasses protect against cancer of the eyelid as well as melanoma of the eye. Sun exposure to the eye also increases your risk of cataracts
    • Wear glasses that protect against both UVA & UVB rays
    • Wraparound glasses are best
  • Avoid tanning beds, as these give off harmful UVA & UVB rays

Take the next step:

  • Use this collection of skin cancer resources from the University of Michigan Health System
  • Learn about Mohs surgery at the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center
  • Still have questions? Call the nurses at the University of Michigan Cancer AnswerLine™. They can help patients or their loved ones find a clinical trial or provide insights into the newest and latest cancer treatments. Feel free to call at 1-800-865-1125 or send an e-mail.

KimZThe Cancer AnswerLine™ nurses are experienced in oncology care, including helping patients and their families who have questions about cancer. These registered oncology nurses are available by calling 800-865-1125 Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. Your call is always free and confidential.



Cancer-center-informal-vertical-sig-150x150The University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center’s 1,000 doctors, nurses, care givers and researchers are united by one thought: to deliver the highest quality, compassionate care while working to conquer cancer through innovation and collaboration. The center is among the top-ranked national cancer programs, and #1 in Michigan according to U.S. News & World Report. Our multidisciplinary clinics offer one-stop access to teams of specialists for personalized treatment plans, part of the ideal patient care experience. Patients also benefit through access to promising new cancer therapies.