Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is the second most common skin cancer. It starts in the outer layer of the skin. Fortunately, SCCs are very slow growing, but if left untreated, they can disfigure the skin and may spread to other organs of the body (metastasise).
There is strong evidence to suggest that ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun can do long-term damage to the skin, which may contribute to the development of squamous cell carninoma.
The diagnosis is often clinical, but ultimate confirmation is obtained by histopathological (under the microscope) examination. This can be done by sending only a small portion (biopsy) or the whole tumour (excision) away. Sometimes biopsy is taken after non-surgical treatments to check if the lesion has been fully cleared. It may take up to two weeks or more for the results of the biopsy to be ready.
Surgery is the commonest treatment option, but some types of SCC can be treated by radiotherapy, chemotherapy and topical ointments/creams. Surgery is usually carried out under local anaesthesia, on an outpatient basis, with minimal disruption to your daily routine.
Curretage – simple scraping away of the damaged cells in the superficial, top layers of the skin leaving the wound to heal on its own over the next few days (this is possible as these wounds are very superficial)
Excision – aims to remove the abnormal lesion and a narrow rim of normal tissue around it in order to completely clear the area of the cancer. If tumour is small, the removal of the tissue for diagnosis will also act as the cure. One of the major advantages of surgery is an opportunity to obtain a specimen for histological assessment and reliable confirmation as to weather tumour has been removed completely.
Certain wounds are small and/or superficial enough that can heal on their own (even without suturing) with regular change of dressings. In most cases however, once the cancer has been removed, the edges of the wound are stitched together (the simplest mode of surgical reconstruction). If the defect is larger or at a specific anatomical sites (especially on the face), sometimes it might be necessary to close the wound with a skin graft or flap. Skin grafts are harvested from certain areas of the body as a thin or thick piece of skin and placed over the wound. Grafts will have to acquire a new blood supply at the site of reconstruction. Skin flaps on the other hand, have their own blood supply and are raised from the area around the wound or even further away and transposed into the defect. Flaps provide very good colour and contour match and usually lead to a very favourable aesthetic outcome.
Regardless of reconstructive option used, I prefer to use the stitch which is hidden under the skin surface and needs to be pulled out in 7-14 days (see picture). In my experience, such stitches are least irritating, produce the fine line scar and leave no stitch marks. I always use magnifying surgical loops during surgery to ensure accurate and neat operating.
Cryotherapy – eradicating the tumour and superficial layer of skin by freezing (liquid nitrogen is applied to the area via special spray pump). This procedure is carried out in outpatients and incurs minimal localised discomfort
Squamous cell carcinoma caught early is curable. However, if you have had one SCC, it is possible that others will develop over the years. For this reason, you need to examine your skin for any abnormality every 3-6 months to detect early warning signs.
- • Check for any existing or new skin lumps or moles that enlarge, change colour, bleed or itch. Most changes are harmless but they may indicate the start of a skin cancer. See your doctor if in doubt.
- • Take care whilst in the sun, by wearing protective clothing and using high factor sunscreens (SPF+).
- • Wearing a hat with a large brim is recommended.
- • Avoid strong sunshine during 11am to 3pm if possible.
- • Avoid using sunbeds.
- • Pass on the message to friends and family about protecting themselves and checking alterations in moles and their skin.
- • It is particularly important to protect children from strong sunlight.
- Anticoagulation medication (Aspirin, Brufen, Warfarin, Clopidrogel) should ideally be stopped few days before the operation to reduce the risk of bleeding, but advise from the clinician who prescribed them is wise beforehand. I would strongly advise you to stop smoking prior to surgery as this can badly affect the outcome of surgery and increase complication rates.
- Please make sure that you arrange to be collected from the hospital as you will not be able to drive after the surgery.
- Plan your time off school / work / sports.
- Allow at least few weeks after surgery before considering a holiday.
Follow ups vary from 6 months to 2-3 years. It is important to rule out any recurrence in the vicinity of the operated area and lack of cancer spread into the nearby lymph glands. Enlarged lymph glands need to be tested, but might not necessarily be related to skin cancer.
Once the SCC is completely removed, you should considered yourself ‘cured’ and can be discharged. No follow ups are required. If the margin of safety is too narrow or tumour has not been completely excised, additional surgery and/or radiotherapy might be required as well as a longer follow up.
Potential risks and complications of surgery
The rehabilitation will be geared towards your needs at home, work, and hobbies. Finger movements are encouraged straight after surgery whereas wrist motion exercises are started 5-7 days after the operation. If there is a wrist swelling, an elastic garment can be applied for edema control.
By six weeks, no immobilization is necessary and an aggressive strengthening program can be initiated. Three months postoperatively, the patient can return to full unrestricted activities.
Pain relief, improved motion, and increased function are the main long-term goals, but this requires a lot of time and patience, for patients, surgeons and therapist alike. Adequate rehabilitation aims to restore wrist stability and the load bearing function of the joint, but biomechanical properties remain compromised in comparison to healthy, strong wrist joints. Many patients are able to return to work with no restrictions, but those involved with demanding, strenuous tasks should consider work restrictions or changes in work duties.
Potential risks and complications
- Bleeding and haematoma formation (rarely requiring return to theatre)
- Scarring (including hypertrophic scarring)
- Graft loss or flap necrosis
- Painful scar
- Incomplete excision
- Secondary procedures
Examine your skin every 6-12 months for early warning signs. Systematically look and feel for any changes in your skin, ask someone you feel comfortable with to examine your back, neck, ears or scalp or seek advice from your G.P.
- Aim to cover up and wear wide-brimmed hats when outdoors to protect the area’s most at risk.
- High factor sunscreens (minimum SPF 15+) are vital. Apply them before going out in the sun and re-apply every 2-3 hours, or more frequently if perspiring or swimming.
- Wear 100% U.V protective sunglasses as the skin surrounding the eyes is vulnerable to sun damage.
- Seek shade between 11:00am and 3.00pm.
- Make sure you do not burn and take extra care with children.
- Avoid using artificial sun tanning beds.
- Advise others to protect themselves and carry out annual whole body skin checks.
Remember – early recognition is important as it may reduce the necessity for more invasive treatment. PREVENTION IS BETTER THAN CURE !
This leaflet provides only basic and generic information, but full details and explanations are provided at the consultation as no two patients are the same and each person’s circumstances are highly individual.
If you have any concerns following your surgery please contact:
- Hospital where you were operated:
– Ashtead 01372 221 442; St Anthony’s 020 8337 6691; Parkside 020 8971 8000
- Your GP practice
- My secretary on 0845 026 7776 (Monday – Friday, 9.30 – 18.00)
|Hospital stay||Day care|
|Surgery time||30-45 min|
|Wound healing||7-10 days|
|Washing||from week 1|
|Time off work||1-2 weeks|
|Sports and exercise||from week 2|
|Full recovery||2-3 weeks|