The sun is no friend to your skin. Spending hours soaking up rays can do more than make your skin a few shades darker. It can increase your risk for skin cancer.
Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is a type of skin cancer that most commonly forms on parts of your body exposed to the sun’s rays. Squamous cell carcinoma is more likely to develop on your arms, legs, face, hands, neck, and lips, but it can also develop inside your mouth or on your genitals.
Bowen’s disease, also called squamous cell carcinoma in situ, is the earliest form of SCC. This precancerous spot typically appears as a flat, reddish, scale-like patch on the skin that’s often larger than one inch and grows slowly.
In about 5 percent of cases, Bowen’s disease becomes squamous cell carcinoma. Bowen’s disease is most common in older white men.
These growths may itch and burn, or feel painful when rubbed. In some cases, actinic keratosis also causes dry, scaly lips.
Bump or lump
Don’t mistake a newly risen area of your skin as a mole or harmless cyst. Squamous cell carcinoma can start as a firm, elevated bump or lump. It then becomes dome-shaped, and it may eventually open, bleed, and scab. In some cases, this bump may grow rapidly.
Cancerous skin growths develop much faster than growths caused by other conditions, and they may develop on areas of your skin that are scarred from a previous injury.
When a sore doesn’t heal
People of all ages experience pimples or sores on their bodies from time to time. Usually these sores clear up in a few days or a week. A sore that doesn’t heal or go away is a potentially bigger problem.
Skin cancer prevents your skin from healing. A patch of skin that doesn’t heal in regular time may be a sign of squamous cell carcinoma. These spots typically bleed easily if bumped or rubbed.
Changes in existing spots
Warts and moles are rarely cause to worry. Though they may cause some irritation, most warts and moles are completely harmless. Because squamous cell carcinoma sometimes develops in existing skin lesions, it’s important to monitor moles, warts, or skin lesions for changes. Any observable change should raise a red flag and warrant a trip to the doctor for further examination.
The prognosis for SCC depends on a few factors, including:
- how advanced the cancer was when it was detected
- the location of the cancer on the body
- whether the cancer has spread to other areas of the body
The sooner SCC is diagnosed, the better. Once found, treatment can begin quickly, which makes a cure more likely. It’s important to treat precancerous lesions, like Bowen’s disease or actinic keratosis, early before they develop into cancer. See your doctor right away if you notice any new or unusual skin lesions.
Make regular appointments with your doctor for a skin check. Perform a self-examination once every month. Ask a partner or use a mirror to check places you can’t see, like your back or the top of your head.
This is especially important for higher risk individuals, such as those with light skin, blond hair, and light-colored eyes. Anyone who spends prolonged time in the sun unprotected is also at risk.
Once you’ve had squamous cell carcinoma, you’re at higher risk for a recurrence, even if the cancer is removed successfully. Take steps to prevent recurrence and always protect your skin from the sun. Avoid direct exposure to sunlight, and wear high-quality sunscreens with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30.
No amount of time in the sun is too short for sun damage, so lather on sunscreen even if you’ll only be in the sun for a few minutes. Wearing sun-reflecting clothing, long shirts, or long pants can also prevent sun exposure.