Treatments For Squamous Cell Carcinoma

October 4, 2023

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is non-melanoma skin cancer. This cancer develops in the top layer of the skin, tends to grow slowly, and rarely spreads to other parts of the body. SCC arises due to changes in the DNA of squamous cells. The resulting uncontrollable growth usually appears as a red, scaly, crusty patch, which is also the main sign of the condition. Parts of the body exposed to the sun are more prone to the development of squamous cell carcinoma. Most cases of SCC are the consequence of extensive exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun or tanning equipment. Individuals with light-colored skin and eyes and those who spend a lot of time in the sun without protection are at a higher risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma. Learn about treatments for this condition now.


Cryotherapy, also known as cryosurgery, treats squamous cell carcinoma on the surface of the skin. The procedure destroys the tumor tissue by freezing it with liquid nitrogen. Cryosurgery doesn't require the use of anesthesia, and no incisions are made during the procedure. Some patients may undergo this method because of problems with anesthesia or bleeding disorders. The treatment is also inexpensive and fairly easy. The substance can be sprayed on the area or applied with a cotton-tipped device.

The process takes a few weeks, and the treated tissue and skin in surrounding areas may redden, blister, and harden before falling off. Patients with dark complexions may lose some pigment. Repeated applications may be necessary during the procedure to make certain malignant tissue is destroyed. Cryotherapy is not as effective as surgery, but the cure rate is high for certain cases of SCC that occur on the surface of the skin. Other methods best treat squamous cell carcinomas that are more invasive because cryosurgery may not reach the deep areas of the tumor.

Electrodesiccation And Curettage

Electrodesiccation and curettage is a technique used to treat tiny squamous cell carcinoma lesions. It involves the use of a scraping tool to remove the skin cancer, a process is known as curettage. The instrument has a sharp, circular tip and is used to remove the surface of the skin cancer. The second part of the procedure is called electrodesiccation and entails the use of an electrocautery needle to burn the cancerous area. This action destroys any residual cancer cells and stops the bleeding. This process of scraping and burning is usually performed a few times through layers of tissue to make sure the tumor is completely removed. The low-risk technique is almost as effective as surgical removal of surface SCCs regarding cure rates. This technique leaves a fairly large scar, so it's not recommended for highly visible areas. It's also not advisable as a treatment for invasive or aggressive cases of squamous cell carcinoma or delicate areas.

Photodynamic Therapy

Photodynamic therapy (PDT) is another treatment used for superficial squamous cell carcinoma. The treatment can be used for some skin cancers on the scalp and face with minimal damage to surrounding areas. PDT combines light and liquid drugs to destroy skin cancer cells. The drug is a topical agent that is photosensitizing towards cancer cells, which means the cells will become sensitive to light. This topical agent is applied to the skin and allowed time for absorption, and after about an hour, a strong light or laser is illuminated directly onto the medicated area to activate the agent and subsequently destroy the cancer cells. The area may swell, redden, and cause discomfort during recovery. Flaking and peeling may also result. Patients should avoid the sun for at least forty-eight hours after the procedure because the light may activate the photosensitizing drug and cause bad sunburns. Photodynamic therapy is not recommended for invasive squamous cell carcinoma.


Excision is a simple operation that cuts out cancerous tissue and a bit of the healthy tissue in the immediate area. Excisional surgery can be used to treat squamous cell carcinomas that haven't spread to other areas. The doctor uses a cutting instrument called a scalpel to perform the procedure. Some cases may require removal of an extra area of healthy skin surrounding the tumor. This operation is referred to as a wide excision. The area is closed with stitches after the surgery, and the excised tissue is sent to a laboratory for analysis. This is done to make sure all cancerous tissue was removed. The patient may need further surgery if cancer cells are found in any of the healthy tissue extracted. This type of surgery can be used for other types of carcinomas and melanomas as well. Patients should consult a highly skilled reconstructive surgeon to minimize scarring.

Medicated Creams

Some skin cancers can be treated by applying medicated creams directly onto the diseased area of skin. These creams are topical treatments and they usually contain drugs used for cancer therapy. 5-fluorouracil (5-FU) and imiquimod creams are used to treat early forms of SCC called squamous cell carcinoma in situ, Bowen disease, or actinic keratoses. Imiquimod triggers the immune system to produce an anticancer chemical, while 5-FU is a form of chemotherapy. Both creams are FDA-approved and are being tested for effectiveness in treating other superficial squamous cell carcinomas. Imiquimod use may cause inflammation and tenderness. Side effects include pain, itching, fever, or achy joints. Patients should contact their healthcare provider if they're experiencing side effects from usage. 5-FU can also cause effects such as blistering or redness, but they are usually temporary and minor. Patients should avoid the sun while using 5-FU because the treated skin will be more sensitive to the sun's effects. Certain invasive forms of SCC may be treated with imiquimod in the future, but trials are still being conducted to prove its effectiveness.

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