Did you know that 20,000 more New Zealanders will develop non-melanoma cancers this year than they did in 2006.? It’s time to get serious about skin cancer. Here’s the low-down on squamous cell carcinoma – New Zealand’s second most dangerous skin cancer.

In a recent blog post, we talked about the alarming incidence of melanoma, but regrettably, the skin cancer story doesn’t end there. Non-melanoma cancers – squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) and basal cell carcinoma (BCC) – have also hit an all-time high, with the Cancer Society of New Zealand calling for urgent Government action in April this year.

Just how dangerous is squamous cell carcinoma?

Although most detected early are low risk, it would be wrong to underestimate SCC. Like melanoma, SCC can spread to other parts of the body; although this is uncommon. Most are cured by treatment, which is more likely to be successful if undertaken when the lesion is small. If not caught in time, it can be fatal. The risk of recurrence or disease-associated death is higher when the squamous cell carcinoma is larger than 20 mm in diameter or thicker than two millimetres at the time of surgical excision.

It’s useful to know that about half of people at high risk of SCC will develop a second one within five years of the first. More importantly, statistics also show that group to have increased risk of other skin cancers, especially melanoma. Regular self-skin examinations* and annual skin checks by an expert specialist are a must.

So, what do you look for?

  • SCC often looks like scaly red patches, open sores, warts or elevated growths with a central depression; which may crust or bleed.
  • They grow over weeks to months
  • They are often tender or painful
  • Can develop on all areas of the body, including the mucous membranes and genitals, but is most common in areas frequently exposed to the sun such as the rim of the ear, lower lip, face, balding scalp, neck, hands, arms and legs.
  • SCC is often found on areas of skin which reveal telltale signs of sun damage, including wrinkles, pigment changes, freckles, age spots, loss of elasticity and broken blood vessels.
  • Size varies from a few millimetres to several centimetres in diameter.

Now, what do we do about it?

There are a number of treatments for small and early SCCs, including freezing, scraping or excisional surgery. For other SCCs, your doctor may recommend Mohs surgery. The cure rate for previously untreated SCCs is around 99 percent. For a recurrent or large SCC, the cure rate is a little lower.

Beyond treatment for individuals, New Zealand as a whole needs to sit up and take notice. Though most of us are aware of the elevated risk here, we don’t take the issue seriously enough, and it shows; in our steadily climbing statistics. The medical director of NZ Cancer Society, Dr Chris Jackson, has recently appealed to see more action at a regulatory level, saying: “We need a strong response from Government that includes banning sunbeds, improving sun protection for outdoor workers, making shade areas mandatory and rolling out funding for SunSmart into all schools, and launching a skin cancer reduction strategy.”

Until then, start at home; be vigilant with your own, and your family’s, sun protection routine – “slip, slop, slap and wrap’ is as relevant now as it’s always been. Don’t accept ‘no’ for an answer from reluctant kids. Be proactive with self-examination*; once you’re familiar with what to look for, you can check your family or teach them how to check themselves. You could be responsible for the very first step in saving their life.

No matter what, the second you have any concerns, make an appointment with a specialist; nothing can replace a highly trained eye. Even if you think there’s nothing to worry about, an annual check-up is an effective safety net.

Skin Centre’s dermatologists have dedicated their entire professional lives to the prevention, detection and treatment of skin cancer. The team’s combined experience, training and state-of-the-art technology will ensure the best outcome possible.

Ring and book an appointment today on 0508 232 884.

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