Everything You Should Know About This Lesser-Known Skin Cancer

Most of us look forward to the balmy breezes and cheerful sunshine brought about by spring and summer, especially those of us living in climates where winter is long, gloomy and bitterly cold. Yet as we get our shorts, polo shirts and swimsuits out of storage, it’s important to remind ourselves to stay sun smart and vigilant against skin cancer.

Melanoma is a skin cancer many of us are familiar with. But have you heard of a skin cancer called cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma (CSCC)? If not, you might be surprised to learn that CSCC is actually one of the most common skin cancers in the world – even more common than melanoma with an estimated 700,000 new cases diagnosed in the U.S. annually.

CSCC can also be a deadly skin cancer. Every year, an estimated 7,000 people in the U.S. die of CSCC. And in the southern part of the U.S., the number of deaths from CSCC may actually be higher than deaths from melanoma.

“The good news is that CSCC is usually highly treatable when detected early,” notes Dr. Sunandana Chandra, a medical oncologist at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center Northwestern University. “That’s why it is important to know about CSCC, so you can take the necessary precautions to protect yourself, know how to identify early signs of the cancer, and to understand your treatment options if it progresses. Being vigilant about your skin and reaching out to your doctor early with any concerns will allow you to consider more treatment options and possibly have better outcomes.”

So what do you need to know about CSCC? Here are three important tips:

  1. Take a Closer Look at Your Skin. Since early detection is key, it’s important to know your skin and what to look for. As a precaution, the Skin Cancer Foundation recommends that adults check their skin monthly and schedule an annual dermatologist visit for a full-body skin exam. CSCC typically appears on sun-exposed parts of the body, such as the face, head and neck, and can take several forms, including rough or scaly red patches, raised lumps, open sores or wart-like growths. If you notice an unusual spot on your skin, be sure to schedule an appointment with your doctor immediately.
  2. Know the Stats, Know Your Risk. Exposure to harmful UV rays is the main cause of CSCC, but there are also certain groups of people who are at higher risk. Men are three times more likely than women to be diagnosed with CSCC, and the cancer tends to occur more frequently in elderly patients ages 65 and older. Also, those living in the southern parts of the U.S. should be particularly thoughtful about how much sun exposure they are getting.
  3. Involve Your Doctors and Ask the Right Questions. If you think you have CSCC, don’t wait. Talk to your doctor right away. Often CSCC can be easily cured in its early stages with the help of a dermatologist or Mohs surgeon. However, if the CSCC progresses and grows bigger or spreads, a multidisciplinary team of healthcare providers may be needed to help assess the situation and work with you to figure out your options. This team may include your original dermatologist or Mohs surgeon plus additional physicians and surgeons from other specialties. Good questions to ask your healthcare team when it comes to CSCC include: What treatment options can I consider, and how do they work? What are the side effects of these treatments? What results can I expect from these treatment options? Are there any advances in CSCC treatment to be aware of? What other options may I consider (e.g., clinical trials)?

If you think you or someone you know may have CSCC, contact a doctor and visit SkinCancer.org.

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