Tests and procedures used to diagnose squamous cell carcinoma of the skin include:
- Physical exam. A member of your health care team asks about your health history and looks at your skin for signs of squamous cell carcinoma of the skin.
- Removing a sample of tissue for testing, called a biopsy. A biopsy is a procedure to remove a sample of tissue for testing in a lab. A member of your health care team uses a tool to cut away, shave off or punch out some or all of the area of skin that looks unusual. The sample is tested in a lab to see if it is cancer.
Most squamous cell carcinomas of the skin can be removed with minor surgery. Some are removed with a medicine applied to the skin. The treatment depends on where the cancer is, how large it is, how fast it's growing and what you prefer.
Treatments for very small skin cancers
If the skin cancer is small, not deep into the skin, called superficial, and has a low risk of spreading, less-invasive treatment choices include:
- Curettage and electrodessication. This treatment involves removing the top of the skin cancer with a scraping tool called a curet. Then an electric needle is used to sear the base of the cancer.
- Laser therapy. This treatment uses an intense beam of light to destroy growths. There's usually little damage to nearby tissue. And there's a reduced risk of bleeding, swelling and scarring.
- Freezing. This treatment, called cryosurgery, involves freezing cancer cells with liquid nitrogen. Freezing might be done after using a scraping tool, called a curet, to remove the surface of the skin cancer.
- Photodynamic therapy. During photodynamic therapy, a liquid medicine that makes the cancer cells sensitive to light is applied to the skin. Later, a light that destroys the skin cancer cells is shined on the area. This treatment might be used with surgery or other treatments.
Treatments for larger skin cancers
More-invasive treatments might be recommended for larger squamous cell carcinomas and those that go deeper into the skin. Options might include:
- Simple excision. This involves cutting out the cancer and a margin of healthy skin around it. Sometimes more skin around the tumor is removed, called a wide excision.
- Mohs surgery. Mohs surgery involves removing the cancer layer by layer and looking at each layer under the microscope until no cancer cells are left. This allows the surgeon to remove the whole growth without taking too much of the healthy skin around it.
- Radiation therapy. Radiation therapy uses powerful energy beams to kill cancer cells. Radiation therapy is sometimes used after surgery when there is an increased risk that the cancer might return. It also might be an option for people who can't have or don't want surgery.
Treatments for skin cancer that spreads past the skin
When squamous cell carcinoma spreads to other parts of the body, medicines might be recommended, including:
- Chemotherapy. Chemotherapy uses strong medicines to kill cancer cells. If squamous cell carcinoma spreads to the lymph nodes or other parts of the body, chemotherapy can be used alone or with other treatments, such as targeted therapy and radiation therapy.
- Targeted therapy. Targeted therapy uses medicines that attack specific chemicals in the cancer cells. By blocking these chemicals, targeted treatments can cause cancer cells to die. Targeted therapy is usually used with chemotherapy.
Immunotherapy. Immunotherapy is a treatment with medicine that helps the body's immune system kill cancer cells. The immune system fights off diseases by attacking germs and other cells that shouldn't be in the body. Cancer cells survive by hiding from the immune system. Immunotherapy helps the immune system cells find and kill the cancer cells.
For squamous cell carcinoma of the skin, immunotherapy might be considered when the cancer is advanced and other treatments aren't an option.
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Preparing for your appointment
If you have a skin sore that concerns you, make an appointment with a doctor or other health care professional. You may be referred to a doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of skin conditions, called a dermatologist.
If you've already had skin cancer, you have an increased risk of a second cancer. Talk with your dermatologist about how often to have a skin exam to look for signs of another skin cancer.
Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment.
What you can do
Ask a family member or friend to go with you to the appointment to help you remember the information you get.
Make a list of:
- Your medical history, including other conditions for which you've been treated.
- All your medications, vitamins and natural remedies you take, including doses.
- Questions to ask your health care team.
Some basic questions to ask about squamous cell carcinoma of the skin include:
- Do I have skin cancer? What kind?
- Is this type of cancer likely to spread?
- Has my cancer spread?
- What treatment do you recommend?
- What are the possible side effects of this treatment?
- Will I have a scar after treatment?
- Is this cancer likely to come back?
- Am I at risk of other types of skin cancer?
- What can I do to prevent skin cancer?
- How often will I need follow-up visits after treatment?
- Are there brochures or other printed material that I can have? What websites do you recommend?
What to expect from your doctor
Be prepared to answer some basic questions, such as:
- How long have you had this skin growth?
- Has it grown much since you found it?
- Does the growth or sore cause discomfort?
- Do you have any other growths or sores that concern you?
- Have you had skin cancer before?
- How much were you in the sun as a child?
- Have you ever used tanning beds?
- How much are you in the sun now?
- What do you do to stay safe in the sun?
- Have you ever taken medicines that suppress your immune system?
- Do you or did you smoke? How much?
Aug. 11, 2023