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Crusty, Wart-Like Skin Growths? You May Have Squamous Cell Carcinoma

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Have you recently developed some crusty, wart-like patches on your skin? Perhaps they are raised, and maybe they bleed when you scratch or nick them. While there are several diseases and ailments that can cause symptoms like these, one distinct possibility is that you've developed squamous cell carcinoma, a common form of skin cancer.

Now, before you panic, note that this is one of the most treatable forms of skin cancer out there -- especially if it is caught early. Only about 2,000 people die each year from squamous cell and basal cell carcinoma (a similar condition), in spite of the fact that 5.4 million people are diagnosed with these diseases each year. Here's what you need to know about the condition.

What causes squamous cell carcinoma?

Like most skin cancers, squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is largely caused by exposure to UV rays. It's not a single incident of UV exposure that leads to SCC, but rather your cumulative exposure over a lifetime. People who regularly spend a lot of time in the sun, such as surfers, cyclists, and runners, are at an increased risk of SCC. So are people who go tanning regularly.

SCC occurs when skin cells suffer a certain DNA mutation as a result of the UV exposure. They pass this mutation onto new cells, and the damaged cells continue replicating out of control, creating the cancerous lesion.

Where are SCC lesions often found?

You can develop SCC anywhere your skin has been exposed to the sun. They're most likely to be seen on the face, hands, scalp, arms, and legs, as most people get more sun exposure in these areas.

The lesions may initially look like freckles, but within a few weeks to a few months, they change and become characterized by the scaly, wart-like appearance you're noticing.

How is SCC treated?

If you think you may have SCC, you should make an appointment with a dermatologist promptly. They will evaluate the lesions visually and also take a skin sample to confirm that you do, indeed, have SCC. They will typically numb the area before taking the tissue sample, so the process should not be painful -- though you may have a bit of soreness similar to that caused by a scratch or small cut afterwards.

If your lesions are found to be caused by SCC, then your dermatologist will likely recommend a procedure to remove them. Depending the size and location of the lesions, your doctor may remove them with a laser or with a surgical scalpel. Usually, you'll remain awake during this procedure, but a local anesthetic will be used to numb the area to be operated upon. Your doctor will apply a bandage to the area, and you may need to change the dressing once or twice a day for a week or two. 

Once the lesions are removed, you may need to undergo a body scan just to make sure the cancer has not spread to any other areas, such as any of your internal organs. This cancer does not spread often, but when it does, it may spread to the lymph nodes. If your cancer has spread, you may need to undergo additional surgery to remove these internal tumors, plus radiation treatments to ensure the cancer does not continue to spread. Chemotherapy may also be required in the most serious of cases

If you think you may have SCC, make a call to your dermatologist today. The sooner you seek treatment such as skin cancer surgery, the easier the lesions will be to remove -- whether they end up being caused by SCC or some other skin ailment.