It is best to seek treatment for cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma (cSCC) as early as possible, as doctors can usually treat early stage cSCC easily and locally. Delays in treatment could mean cancer spreads to other areas of the body.

Cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma (cSCC) is the second most common type of skin cancer after basal cell carcinoma. Doctors can typically cure this form of skin cancer at an early stage by removing or destroying the tumor. Without treatment, tumors may become larger and grow faster.

This article discusses why immediate treatment for cSCC is essential, what happens after diagnosis, treatment, and the typical outlook.

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It is best for a person to seek treatment for cSCC as soon as possible.

Cutaneous SCC progresses quickly. A cSCC tumor can increase in size if a person delays treatment by as little as 1–2 months. Doctors can typically cure early stage cSCC by destroying or removing smaller tumors. However, as cSCC tumors grow, they become more difficult to treat. Larger tumors may also be more likely to recur and can increase the likelihood of metastasis.

Typically, cSCC does not metastasize or spread to distant areas because doctors usually diagnose and treat the disease in the early stages. However, cSCC can spread to other organs and structures, including the lymph nodes, liver, lungs, brain, and bones.

If cSCC metastasizes, a person may require more invasive treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

As cSCC advances and spreads, the outlook for those with the disease becomes significantly poorer. Although rare, metastatic cSCC is potentially fatal.

Read more about squamous cell carcinoma.

After diagnosis, doctors will perform tests to determine whether cancer cells have spread locally or to other areas of the body. This process is called staging. Knowing the stage of cSCC helps doctors plan the most effective treatment.

The staging process can involve:

Stages of cSCC range from 0–4. In general, a higher stage means the cancer has spread further.

Read about coping with a cancer diagnosis.

Doctors can usually remove cSCC during an office visit in the early stages. However, more advanced or higher-stage cSCC may require other methods of treatment.

Sometimes, a doctor may observe cSCC over time and recommend treatment only if the cancer worsens.

Treatment options for cSCC include:

Read more about carcinoma treatment.

The outlook for cSCC is generally favorable, and 3-year survival rates for people with early stage cSCC are around 85%. This means that people with early-stage cSCC are 85% as likely to be alive 3 years after diagnosis as people without cSCC.

However, the outlook is poorer for later-stage cSCC. People with advanced cSCC have a 5-year survival rate below 40%.

Doctors can easily and effectively treat cSCC in the early stages. Delays in treatment could mean cSCC becomes more challenging to treat, has a higher risk of recurrence, and may spread to other areas of the body.

Learn more about the outlook for those with skin cancer.

A person should receive treatment for cSCC as soon as possible, as the condition is easier to treat during the early stages.

Advanced cSCC is more likely to involve invasive treatments, severe illness, metastasis, and, in some cases, death.

After diagnosis, a doctor will stage a person’s cSCC to determine the best treatment methods. In the early stages, doctors can usually remove the cancer during an office visit. A person may require chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and immunotherapy for more advanced or metastasized cSCC.

The outlook for people with early stage cSCC is significantly more positive than with advanced cSCC.