Squamous cell carcinoma stages represent the size of a tumor and how far it has spread. However, squamous cell carcinoma is usually very slow to metastasize; most cases are diagnosed while the cancer is still confined to the upper layer of the skin. As a result, these tumors may not be staged if it is clear that the cancer has not invaded nearby tissues at the time of diagnosis.
If a squamous cell carcinoma does require staging, oncologists will evaluate a number of factors, including:
- The size of the tumor
- Whether the tumor has grown into the dermis or subcutis levels of the skin
- Whether the cancer has invaded the bones
- Where on the body the tumor developed (specifically, whether it developed on an ear or lip, making it a high-risk lesion)
- How the cells appear when viewed under a microscope
- Whether the cancer has spread to lymph nodes or distant organs
After evaluating these factors, the oncologist will assign one of the following squamous cell carcinoma stages to the tumor:
- Stage 0 – Cancer is only present on the epidermis (the top layer of the skin).
- Stage 1 – Cancer has grown deep into the skin, but has not spread to nearby lymph nodes or healthy tissues.
- Stage 2 – Cancer has grown deep into the skin and displays one or more high-risk features (such as metastasis to nerves or lower skin layers), but has not spread to nearby lymph nodes or healthy tissues.
- Stage 3 – Cancer has grown into lymph nodes, but has not spread to any organs other than the skin.
- Stage 4 – Cancer has spread to one or more distant organs, such as the lungs, liver, brain or distant parts of the skin.
These stages can influence the specific types of treatment that are recommended for a patient. For instance, topical chemotherapy might be an option for small, low-risk lesions, while more extensive surgery might be necessary for later-stage cancers. By choosing the least aggressive treatment that is effective for a specific stage of cancer, an oncologist can individualize a patient’s treatment plan while ensuring the best possible quality of life.
How to Tell If Squamous Cell Carcinoma Has Spread
Many doctors will order a PET or CT scan once a squamous cell carcinoma diagnosis has been reached to ensure the cancer has not spread to other parts of the body and is contained within the layers of the skin. Your doctor may also test your lymph nodes near the tumor site.
Diagnostic services, staging services and a comprehensive range of treatments are all available at Moffitt Cancer Center, and referrals are not required. To learn more about squamous cell carcinoma stages and the treatment options for each, call 1-888-663-3488 or submit a new patient registration form online.