In general, the squamous cell carcinoma survival rate is very high—when detected early, the five-year survival rate is 99 percent. Even if squamous cell carcinoma has spread to nearby lymph nodes, the cancer may be effectively treated through a combination of surgery and radiation treatment. Nevertheless, a patient who has been treated for squamous cell carcinoma in the past always faces the possibility of a recurrence, so lifelong monitoring to increase the chance of early detection is highly encouraged.
What do cancer survival rates mean?
When learning about cancer survival rates, it’s important to keep in mind that these statistics are based on a very large and diverse group of people. Because no two people with squamous cell carcinoma are alike, the general survival rate cannot be used to predict a specific patient’s outcome. Additionally, survival rates are broad benchmarks. While useful as a baseline point of reference for physicians, this information is not detailed enough to reflect the different treatments people have had, nor is it recent enough to include the results of the latest breakthrough treatments now available to patients through clinical trials (and possibly even the current standard of care).
Factors affecting squamous cell carcinoma prognosis
There are a handful of factors that can affect a patient’s prognosis, including:
- Having a weakened immune system
- The location of the tumor—tumors found on the face, scalp, fingers and toes spread more easily, as do tumors that arise in an open wound
- If the cancer has recurred
- Larger tumors and those that are growing deep in the skin
Does squamous cell carcinoma spread quickly?
One of the factors that can affect a patient’s prognosis is whether the malignancy has metastasized (spread to another area of the body). Once squamous cell carcinoma has spread beyond the skin, the five-year survival rate drops to less than 50 percent. Fortunately, it’s fairly rare for squamous cell carcinoma to metastasize. Plus, when metastasis does occur, the malignancy generally spreads slowly, with the majority of cases being diagnosed before the cancer has spread past the skin’s upper layer (epidermis).
When staging squamous cell carcinoma, physicians will take a number of factors into account, one being the degree to which the cancer has already spread throughout the body. For example:
- At Stage 0, squamous cell carcinoma has not spread beyond the epidermis.
- At Stage 1, squamous cell carcinoma has spread deeper into the patient’s skin but has not entered any lymph nodes or healthy tissues.
- At Stage 2, squamous cell carcinoma still has not metastasized to any lymph nodes or healthy tissues, but displays at least one high-risk feature, which might include spreading into the skin’s lower layers or the nerves.
- At Stage 3, squamous cell carcinoma has spread into the patient’s lymph nodes but has not reached any other organs or tissues.
- At Stage 4, which is the most advanced stage, squamous cell carcinoma has spread to at least one distant organ (for example, the brain, the lungs or another area of the skin).
What should you do after receiving a squamous cell carcinoma diagnosis?
After being diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma, it’s important to act quickly, since treating this malignancy early can increase the chances of survival. One of the first things you should do is choose a cancer specialist—such as the ones at Moffitt Cancer Center—who can stage the cancer, tell you more about your condition and the treatment options available to you and answer any questions you might have.
Squamous cell carcinoma can be treated using a variety of different methods, and a cancer expert can recommend the one that’s best suited to your specific needs (the approach that’s right for you will depend on numerous factors, including your overall health and how far the malignancy has progressed). Some potential treatment options include:
- Mohs surgery, which involves removing and examining thin layers of tissue until no more cancerous cells are found. Mohs surgery is offered in conjunction with the USF Department of Dermatology
- Excisional surgery, which involves removing a cancerous lesion and a portion of the surrounding healthy tissue, then examining it to confirm that the cancerous cells have all been removed
- Electrosurgery, which involves scraping away a lesion using a curette and then heating the area with an electrocautery needle in order to destroy any remaining cancerous cells and control bleeding (this approach is generally recommended only for patients with small lesions)
Moffitt Cancer Center’s approach to squamous cell carcinoma
At Moffitt Cancer Center, our multispecialty team of cancer experts takes a highly individualized approach to squamous cell carcinoma treatment. We offer the latest diagnostic and treatment options, and we work closely with each patient to offer customized guidance and help ensure the best possible outcome. For instance, there are many steps a patient can take to improve his or her own squamous cell carcinoma prognosis—regardless of the general survival rate—such as:
- Performing self-examinations from head to toe, including parts of the body that are not regularly exposed to UV rays, at least monthly, and promptly reporting any suspicious or unusual changes in skin texture or appearance to a physician
- Seeing a physician for a professional skin cancer examination yearly (or more often, if recommended due to individual risk factors)
- Avoiding exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays; while outdoors, preventive measures include seeking shade, wearing sunglasses and a brimmed hat, covering up with clothing and using a broad-spectrum sunscreen with both UVA and UVB protection (applied 30 minutes before going outside and reapplied immediately after swimming or sweating, or every two hours at minimum)
- Never using indoor tanning beds
If you’d like to learn more about the squamous cell carcinoma survival rate, the experts at Moffitt can put this information into the proper context for you and help you take appropriate steps to achieve the best possible outcome. Call 1-888-663-3488 or complete a new patient registration form online. At Moffitt, we understand how important it is to get started on the right treatment plan as early as possible, so we’ll connect you with a cancer expert as soon as possible.