Squamous cell carcinoma is a type of skin cancer. Treatment options include different types of surgery, radiation therapy, topical medications, light therapy, and more.

Squamous cell carcinoma usually affects areas of the body that receive the most sun exposure. This type of cancer may begin on the:

  • lips
  • ears
  • face
  • neck
  • scalp

In most people, squamous cell carcinoma grows gradually. Treating the condition as early as possible can help a person have the best possible outcome.

This article explores squamous cell carcinoma treatment in more depth. It discusses common treatment options, how to choose the right treatment, and more.

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The most common treatment for squamous cell carcinoma is surgery.

Different surgical methods for treating squamous cell carcinoma include:

  • surgical excision, which involves removing the cancer and some tissue surrounding it
  • cryotherapy, or cryosurgery, which freezes and destroys the cancerous tissue with extreme cold
  • curettage and electrodesiccation, which involves removing the cancer with a sharp tool and then using electrical currents to destroy the remaining cancer cells
  • Mohs’ surgery, which involves removing the cancer stage by stage in layers

Rarely, squamous cell carcinoma may spread to other areas of the body through the lymph nodes. A surgeon may remove lymph nodes when treating patients with advanced forms of this skin cancer.

Radiation therapy uses high energy radiation from light rays or particles to attack cancer cells. Some individuals with squamous cell carcinoma may benefit from this treatment.

Older individuals ineligible for surgery may be good candidates for radiation therapy. A doctor may also recommend radiation therapy after surgery if the surgeon cannot surgically remove all cancer cells, or if the cancer is in an area of the body that is difficult to excise surgically.

If squamous cell carcinoma has spread, it may affect deeper layers of the skin or other tissues. Radiation therapy can help target these types of cancer, which may not respond fully to surgery.

Learn more about radiation therapy.

Some people with squamous cell carcinoma benefit from photodynamic therapy, or light therapy. During this treatment, a doctor applies a topical medication that is sensitive to light on the tumor.

They then direct a strong light or laser at the site of the tumor. This activates the topical medication and kills cancerous cells.

Topical medications can help treat low risk squamous cell carcinoma tumors. These medications come in the form of a cream or gel.

Applying these topical medications directly to the affected skin can help shrink tumors. Examples of topical medications include 5-fluorouracil and imiquimod.

A newer treatment for advanced squamous cell carcinoma involves immunotherapy. This treatment uses the body’s own immune system to target cancer cells.

Immunotherapy can help treat squamous cell carcinoma in individuals who are not eligible for surgery or other treatments. It also does not pose the same risks of toxicity that a treatment, such as chemotherapy, does.

Chemotherapy drugs can help treat squamous cell carcinoma when it has spread throughout the body. Certain targeted therapy drugs may also help keep the cancer from spreading further.

Finding the right treatment for squamous cell carcinoma depends on a number of factors, including:

  • how advanced the cancer is
  • where on the body the cancer is
  • whether the cancer has spread
  • how effective the treatment is likely to be
  • what side effects may develop

Individuals with local squamous cell carcinoma who receive an early diagnosis may respond well to surgical excision. For these individuals, removing the cancerous growth may be enough to treat the cancer.

Some people may not be eligible for surgical treatment. For example, doctors may avoid surgery in older individuals given the potential risks. Individuals ineligible for surgery may be good candidates for radiation therapy.

If the cancer has spread, treatments, such as chemotherapy and immunotherapy, may be the best options. Removing lymph nodes may also be necessary in people with advanced cases.

It is best for a person to contact a doctor to learn more about how to choose the right treatment. Only a medical professional can recommend a treatment plan specific to each individual.

Learn more about skin cancer treatments.

Most people with squamous cell carcinoma will recover. Researchers estimate that the 5-year relative survival rate for this cancer is about 95%.

The outlook can vary between individuals. Age, medical history, how advanced the cancer is, and the location of the cancer can all affect a person’s outlook.

Learn more about the outlook for skin cancer.

A relative survival rate helps give an idea of how long a person with a particular condition will live after receiving a diagnosis compared with those without the condition.

For example, if the 5-year relative survival rate is 70%, it means that a person with the condition is 70% as likely to live for 5 years as someone without the condition.

It is important to remember that these figures are estimates. A person can consult a healthcare professional about how their condition is going to affect them.

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Here are some frequently asked questions about squamous cell carcinoma.

What is the best treatment for squamous cell carcinoma?

There is no single best treatment for squamous cell carcinoma. Each individual may respond best to a different treatment plan. Common treatment options include surgery and radiation therapy. Light therapy, immunotherapy, chemotherapy, and targeted therapy can help treat people with advanced cases.

How serious is squamous cell carcinoma?

Most people with squamous cell carcinoma recover from this form of skin cancer. When receiving treatment early, most people resolve their case of squamous cell carcinoma.

However, it can be more difficult to treat people with advanced cases of squamous cell carcinoma. If the cancer has already spread at the time of diagnosis, it may be more serious.

How quickly does squamous cell skin cancer spread?

Squamous cell skin cancer typically spreads slowly. Its slow spread makes it easier to treat than other types of skin cancer.

Squamous cell carcinoma is a type of skin cancer that tends to develop in areas that get the most sun exposure. Most people with this skin cancer respond well to treatment.

Treatment options for squamous cell carcinoma include surgery, topical medications, radiation therapy, and light therapy. People with more advanced cases of this cancer may also require immunotherapy or chemotherapy.

A person can contact a doctor for more information about treatment options for squamous cell carcinoma. The doctor can provide the right support and recommend a personalized treatment plan.