Squamous Cell Carcinoma: A Guide for Families and Caregivers

Published on December 25, 2023

Updated on December 24, 2023

If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), you may have many questions and concerns. SCC is a type of skin cancer that can also affect other parts of the body, such as the mouth, throat, or lungs. It can cause pain, itching, bleeding, and other problems. It can also spread to other organs and make you extremely sick.

SCC is not the same for everyone. It can be mild or severe, slow, fast, easy, or hard to treat. It can also change over time and affect your loved one's physical, emotional, and social well-being. That is why it is important to understand how SCC works and what to expect from it.

This article will help you learn more about SCC and how to care for your loved one. It will explain what SCC is, how it is diagnosed and treated, what to expect throughout the disease process and progression, and how to support your loved one physically, emotionally, and socially. It will also give you some tips and advice on how to take care of yourself as a family member or caregiver of an SCC patient.

We hope this article will help you and your loved one cope with SCC and its challenges. Remember, you are not alone. There are many resources and support groups available for you and your loved one. You can also reach out to your health care team, friends, and family for help and guidance. Together, you can face SCC with courage and hope.

What is Squamous Cell Carcinoma?

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is a type of cancer that starts in the squamous cells. Squamous cells are flat, thin cells that make up the outer layer of your skin. They also line some of the organs inside your body, such as your mouth, throat, and lungs.

SCC can affect any part of your body that has squamous cells, but it is most common on the areas that get a lot of sun exposure, such as your face, ears, neck, lips, and hands. SCC can also occur on other parts of your body, such as your genitals, anus, or esophagus.

SCC usually grows slowly and does not spread to other parts of your body at first. But if left untreated, it can become more aggressive and invade deeper layers of your skin and other tissues. It can also spread to your lymph nodes and other organs, such as your bones, liver, or brain. This is called metastatic SCC and it is profoundly serious and hard to treat.

Some of the common causes and risk factors of SCC are:

  • Sun exposure: The sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays can damage your skin cells and make them grow abnormally. The more sun exposure you have, the higher your risk of SCC. Tanning beds and lamps can also increase your risk of SCC.
  • Skin type: People with fair skin, light hair, and blue or green eyes are more likely to get SCC than people with darker skin, hair, and eyes. This is because they have less melanin, a pigment that protects your skin from the sun's UV rays.
  • Age: SCC is more common in older people than younger people. This is because your skin becomes thinner and weaker as you age, and you have more sun damage over time.
  • Immune system: People with a weak immune system are more likely to get SCC than people with a strong immune system. This is because your immune system helps fight off abnormal cells and . Some of the things that can weaken your immune system are HIV, AIDS, organ transplants, chemotherapy, and certain medications.
  • Chemical exposure: Some chemicals can irritate or damage your skin and increase your risk of SCC. Some of the chemicals that can cause SCC are arsenic, tar, coal, and some pesticides.

SCC is one of the most common types of cancer in the world. According to the American Cancer Society, about 1.8 million people in the U.S. are diagnosed with SCC each year, and about 15,000 people die from it. SCC accounts for about 20% of all skin cancers and about 2% of all cancers. Worldwide, SCC is the second most common type of skin cancer after basal cell carcinoma, and it affects about 700,000 people each year. SCC is more common in men than women, and in white people than other races.

How is Squamous Cell Carcinoma Diagnosed and Treated?

If you or your loved one has any symptoms or signs of SCC, such as rough, scaly, or crusty patches, bumps, sores, or lesions on the skin or mucous membranes, you should see a doctor as soon as possible. The doctor will examine your skin and ask you some questions about your medical history, sun exposure, and risk factors. The doctor may also do some tests to confirm if you have SCC and how far it has spread. Some of the tests are:

  • Biopsy: This is when the doctor takes a small sample of your skin or tissue and sends it to a lab for testing. The lab will look at the sample under a microscope and check if it has cancer cells. A biopsy is the only way to be sure if you have SCC or not.
  • Imaging tests: These are tests that use x-rays, sound waves, magnetic fields, or radioactive substances to create pictures of the inside of your body. They can help the doctor see if the SCC has spread to other parts of your body, such as your lymph nodes, bones, or organs. Some of the imaging tests are CT scan, MRI, PET scan, and ultrasound.
  • Staging: This is when the doctor uses the results of the biopsy and imaging tests to determine how advanced your SCC is. The stage of your SCC tells you how big the tumor is, how deep it has grown, and how far it has spread. The stage of your SCC can range from 0 to 4, with 0 being the earliest and 4 being the most advanced. The stage of your SCC affects your treatment options and your chances of recovery.

The treatment of your SCC depends on many factors, such as the type, stage, location, and size of your SCC, your overall health, your preferences, and the possible side effects. The main treatment options for SCC are:

  • Surgery: This is when the doctor cuts out the SCC and some of the normal tissue around it. This is the most common and effective way to treat SCC, especially if it is small and has not spread. Surgery can also help remove any SCC that has spread to your lymph nodes or other organs. There are different types of surgery, such as excision, Mohs surgery, curettage and electrodessication, and cryosurgery. The type of surgery you have depends on the location and size of your SCC and how much normal tissue needs to be removed. Surgery can cause some side effects, such as pain, bleeding, infection, scarring, and nerve damage.
  • Radiation therapy: This is when the doctor uses high-energy rays or particles to kill the cancer cells or stop them from growing. Radiation therapy can be used to treat SCC that is too large or hard to remove by surgery, or that has come back after surgery. Radiation therapy can also be used to relieve the symptoms of SCC, such as pain or bleeding. Radiation therapy can be given from a machine outside your body (external beam radiation) or from a device inside your body (brachytherapy). Radiation therapy can cause some side effects, such as skin irritation, redness, swelling, dryness, peeling, blistering, hair loss, fatigue, and nausea.
  • Chemotherapy: This is when the doctor uses drugs to kill the cancer cells or stop them from growing. Chemotherapy can be used to treat SCC that has spread to other parts of your body, or that has come back after surgery or radiation therapy. Chemotherapy can be given through a vein (intravenous), a pill (oral), or a cream (topical). Chemotherapy can cause some side effects, such as hair loss, mouth sores, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, low blood counts, and increased risk of infection.
  • Immunotherapy: This is when the doctor uses drugs to boost your immune system and help it fight the cancer cells. Immunotherapy can be used to treat SCC that has spread to other parts of your body, or that has come back after surgery or radiation therapy. Immunotherapy can be given through a vein (intravenous), a pill (oral), or an injection (subcutaneous). Immunotherapy can cause some side effects, such as rash, itching, fatigue, fever, chills, nausea, diarrhea, and liver problems.
  • Targeted therapy: This is when the doctor uses drugs to target specific genes, proteins, or pathways that are involved in the growth and spread of the cancer cells. Targeted therapy can be used to treat SCC that has spread to other parts of your body, or that has come back after surgery or radiation therapy. Targeted therapy can be given through a vein (intravenous), a pill (oral), or a cream (topical). Targeted therapy can cause some side effects, such as rash, dry skin, nail changes, hair loss, fatigue, diarrhea, and high blood pressure.

The treatment of your SCC may involve one or more of these options, depending on your situation. The doctor will discuss with you the best treatment plan for you and your loved one. The doctor will also explain the goals, benefits, and risks of each treatment option. You and your loved one have the right to ask questions and express your concerns. You and your loved one also have the right to accept or refuse any treatment option. You and your loved one should make the decision that is best for you and your loved one.

What to Expect Throughout the Disease Process and Progression?

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is a type of cancer that can affect different parts of your body, such as your skin, mouth, throat, or lungs. SCC can be mild or severe, slow or fast, easy or hard to treat. It can also change over time and affect your loved one's physical, emotional, and social well-being. That is why it is important to understand how SCC works and what to expect from it.

Disease Progression and Changes

The progression of SCC depends on many factors, such as the type, stage, location, and treatment of the cancer. Doctors use a system called staging to describe how advanced the cancer is. The stages of SCC range from 0 to 4, with 0 being the earliest and 4 being the most advanced. The stage of SCC tells you how big the tumor is, how deep it has grown, and how far it has spread. The stage of SCC affects your treatment options and your chances of recovery.

You and your loved one may notice some changes as the disease progresses. Some of the signs and symptoms of SCC are:

  • A firm bump on the skin, called a nodule. The nodule might be the same color as the skin, or it might look different. It can look pink, red, black, or brown, depending on skin color.
  • A flat sore with a scaly crust.
  • A new sore or raised area on an old scar or sore.
  • A rough, scaly patch on the lip that may become an open sore.
  • A sore or rough patch inside the mouth.
  • A raised patch or wartlike sore on or in the anus or on the genitals.

These signs and symptoms may vary depending on where the SCC is and how far it has spread. If the SCC is in the mouth, throat, or lungs, it may cause problems with swallowing, breathing, speaking, or hearing. If the SCC is in the genitals, it may cause pain, bleeding, or discharge. If the SCC has spread to other parts of the body, it may cause pain, swelling, or weight loss.

Changes in Your Loved One

SCC can cause physical and emotional changes in your loved one. Some of the physical changes are:

  • A sore that doesn't heal or gets worse over time.
  • A growing bump or lump that may bleed or hurt.
  • Changes in skin color or texture, such as redness, swelling, dryness, or peeling.
  • Changes in the shape or size of the mouth, lips, tongue, or throat.
  • Changes in the voice or speech, such as hoarseness, slurring, or difficulty pronouncing words.
  • Changes in the vision or eye movement, such as blurred vision, double vision, or drooping eyelids.

Some of the emotional changes are:

  • Feeling scared, anxious, or sad about having cancer or facing treatment.
  • Feeling angry, frustrated, or guilty about how cancer affects your life or your loved ones.
  • Feeling lonely, isolated, or misunderstood by others who don't have cancer or don't know what you are going through.
  • Feeling hopeless, helpless, or depressed about the future or the possibility of dying.

These changes are normal and understandable. You and your loved one are not alone. There are ways to cope with these changes and to get the support you need.

Complications and Challenges

SCC can cause some complications and challenges that can affect your loved one's quality of life. Some of the common complications and challenges are:

  • Pain: SCC can cause pain in the affected area or in other parts of the body where the cancer has spread. Pain can be mild or severe, constant, or intermittent, sharp or dull. Pain can affect your loved one's sleep, appetite, mood, and activity level.
  • Infection: SCC can make the skin or other tissues more prone to infection. Infection can cause redness, swelling, pus, fever, or chills. Infection can also make the cancer harder to treat or cause it to spread faster.
  • Bleeding: SCC can cause bleeding in the affected area or in other parts of the body where the cancer has spread. Bleeding can be minor or major, external, or internal, visible, or hidden. Bleeding can cause anemia, weakness, dizziness, or shock.
  • Scarring: SCC can cause scarring in the affected area or in other parts of the body where the cancer has spread. Scarring can affect the appearance, function, or sensation of the skin or other tissues. Scarring can also cause itching, tightness, or .
  • Disfigurement: SCC can cause disfigurement in the affected area or in other parts of the body where the cancer has spread. Disfigurement can affect the shape, size, or symmetry of the face, head, neck, or other body parts. Disfigurement can also affect the ability to smile, blink, chew, swallow, or breathe.
  • Nerve damage: SCC can cause nerve damage in the affected area or in other parts of the body where the cancer has spread. Nerve damage can affect the movement, feeling, or function of the muscles, organs, or glands. Nerve damage can also cause numbness, tingling, burning, or weakness.
  • Emotional distress: SCC can cause emotional distress in your loved one and in you. Emotional distress can affect your loved one's self-esteem, confidence, or identity. Emotional distress can also affect your loved one's relationships, social life, or hobbies.

These complications and challenges can be hard to deal with. But there are ways to prevent, treat, or manage them. You and your loved one can work with your health care team to find the best solutions for your situation.

How to Care for Your Loved One with Squamous Cell Carcinoma?

Caring for your loved one with squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) can be a rewarding and challenging experience. You may feel a mix of emotions, such as love, worry, anger, or guilt. You may also face some practical issues, such as managing your time, money, and energy. You may wonder how to best support your loved one physically, emotionally, and socially throughout their SCC journey.

In this section, we will provide you with some tips and advice on how to care for your loved one with SCC. We will also recommend some resources and support groups that can help you and your loved one cope with SCC and its treatment. We will also emphasize the importance of self-care and well-being for yourself as a family member or caregiver of an SCC patient, and how to balance your own needs and responsibilities with those of your loved one.

Caring for Your Loved One

Your loved one may need different types of care depending on the stage and treatment of their SCC. Some of the care may be provided by health care professionals, such as doctors, nurses, or therapists. Some of the care may be provided by you or other family members or friends. Here are some of the ways you can care for your loved one:

Medical Interventions

Your loved one may receive different types of medical interventions to treat their SCC, such as surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, targeted therapy, , or . These interventions may have different goals, benefits, and risks. They may also cause different side effects, such as pain, nausea, fatigue, or skin problems.

You can help your loved one by:

  • Learning about their medical interventions and what to expect from them. You can ask questions to their health care team, read reliable sources of information, or attend educational workshops or webinars.
  • Accompanying your loved one to their medical appointments or treatments, if possible. You can offer emotional support, take notes, or ask questions on their behalf.
  • Helping your loved one manage their medications and follow their treatment plan. You can remind them to take their pills, apply their creams, or use their devices. You can also help them keep track of their prescriptions, refills, or doses.
  • Watching for signs of infection, bleeding, or other complications. You can check their skin, wounds, or mouth for any changes, such as redness, swelling, pus, or pain. You can also monitor their temperature, blood pressure, or blood sugar. You can report any problems to their health care team right away.

Home Care Tips

Your loved one may need some help with their daily activities or personal care at home, such as bathing, dressing, eating, or moving around. They may also need some help with their household chores, such as cleaning, cooking, or shopping. They may also appreciate some help with their hobbies, interests, or pets.

You can help your loved one by:

  • Asking them what they need and how they want to be helped. You can respect their preferences, choices, and independence. You can also encourage them to do what they can by themselves and praise their efforts.
  • Providing them with practical assistance, such as changing their bandages, applying their moisturizers, or cutting their food. You can also help them with their errands, such as picking up their prescriptions, paying their bills, or making their appointments.
  • Making their home comfortable and safe, such as adjusting the temperature, lighting, or noise. You can also remove any hazards, such as loose rugs, cords, or clutter. You can also provide them with any equipment, such as a walker, a wheelchair, or a shower chair.
  • Creating a routine and a schedule, such as setting regular times for meals, medications, or rest. You can also plan some activities, such as reading, watching, or listening to something they enjoy. You can also include some exercise, such as walking, stretching, or yoga.

Emotional and Social Support

Your loved one may experience different emotions, such as fear, , sadness, or anger. They may also face some social challenges, such as isolation, stigma, or discrimination. They may need some emotional and social support to cope with their feelings and situations.

You can help your loved one by:

  • Listening to them and validating their emotions. You can show them that you care and understand what they are going through. You can also avoid judging, criticizing, or minimizing their feelings.
  • Talking to them and sharing your emotions. You can express your own feelings and concerns in a honest and respectful way. You can also avoid hiding, denying, or exaggerating your emotions.
  • Comforting them and offering your encouragement. You can hug them, hold their hand, or touch their shoulder. You can also say some positive words, such as “I'm here for you”, “You're doing great”, or “You're not alone”.
  • Seeking professional help, if needed. You can suggest your loved one to talk to a counselor, therapist, or social worker. You can also help them find one that suits their needs and preferences. You can also join them in their sessions if they want you to.

Support Groups

Support groups are groups of people who share similar experiences or challenges. They can provide a safe and supportive space for your loved one to connect with others who have SCC or are caring for someone with SCC. They can also provide information, education, and resources for your loved one.

You can help your loved one by:

  • Finding a support group that matches their needs and interests. You can search online, ask their health care team, or contact some organizations that offer support groups for SCC patients or caregivers. Some of the organizations are:
    • The Skin Cancer Foundation: This is a nonprofit organization that provides education, prevention, and advocacy for skin cancer. It also offers a Robins Nest program that connects SCC patients and caregivers with various resources and support groups.
    • Cancer Care: This is a nonprofit organization that provides free counseling, support groups, education, and financial assistance for cancer patients and caregivers. It also offers online, telephone, or face-to-face support groups for SCC patients and caregivers.
    • Cancer Support Community: This is a nonprofit organization that provides emotional and social support, education, and resources for cancer patients and caregivers. It also offers online, telephone, or in-person support groups for SCC patients and caregivers.
  • Encouraging your loved one to join a support group that they feel comfortable with. You can help them register, prepare, or participate in the support group. You can also respect their privacy, confidentiality, and boundaries in the support group.
  • Joining a support group for yourself if you need one. You can also benefit from connecting with other SCC caregivers who understand what you are going through. You can also learn from their experiences, tips, and advice.

Communicating with Loved Ones

Communication is an important part of caring for your loved one with SCC. It can help you and your loved one share your thoughts, feelings, and needs. It can also help you and your loved one make decisions, solve problems, and cope with challenges.

You can communicate with your loved one by:

  • Choosing a good time and place to talk. You can pick a time when you and your loved one are calm, relaxed, and not distracted. You can also pick a place where you and your loved one feel comfortable, private, and safe.
  • Using clear and simple language. You can use words that you and your loved one understand and avoid using jargon, slang, or abbreviations. You can also use examples, stories, or pictures to explain something complex or unfamiliar.
  • Asking open-ended questions. You can use questions that start with who, what, where, when, why, or how. You can also use questions that invite your loved one to share their opinions, feelings, or preferences. For example, you can ask “How are you feeling today?”, “What are you worried about?”, or “What do you want to do?”.
  • Listening actively and attentively. You can show your loved one that you are listening and interested in what they are saying. You can also use verbal and nonverbal cues, such as nodding, smiling, or saying “Uh-huh” or “I see”. You can also use paraphrasing, summarizing, or reflecting to check your understanding or show your empathy. For example, you can say “So, you are feeling tired and nauseous after your treatment”, “You are worried about the side effects of your medication”, or “You are angry that you can't do the things you used to do”.
  • Giving and receiving feedback. You can give your loved one constructive and positive feedback on their communication or behavior. You can also receive feedback from your loved one without getting defensive or offended. You can use the sandwich technique, which is to start with a compliment, then give a suggestion, and then end with another compliment. For example, you can say “You are doing a wonderful job of taking care of yourself. I think it would be helpful if you could talk to your doctor about your pain. You are such a strong and brave person”.

Self-Care and Well-Being

Caring for your loved one with SCC can also affect your own health and well-being. You may experience stress, fatigue, , depression, or . You may also neglect your own needs and responsibilities. You may feel guilty or selfish about taking care of yourself.

Providing End-of-Life Care

There may come a time when the cancer treatment is no longer working, and your loved one is nearing the end of life. This can be an exceedingly difficult and emotional time for both of you. You may feel sad, angry, scared, or numb. You may also have many questions and concerns about what will happen and how to help your loved one. In this section, we will give you some tips on how to provide end-of-life care and ensure comfort and peace for your loved one.

: Hospice care is a type of care that focuses on making your loved one as comfortable as possible in the last months, weeks, or days of life. Hospice care does not try to cure the cancer or prolong life, but rather to relieve pain and other symptoms, such as nausea, , or anxiety. Hospice care also provides emotional and spiritual support for your loved one and your family. Hospice care can be given at home, in a hospital, or in a hospice facility, depending on your loved one's needs and preferences. You can help your loved one by:

  • Talking to the doctor about hospice care. You can ask the doctor if your loved one is eligible for hospice care and when it might be appropriate to start. You can also ask the doctor for a referral to a hospice program in your area. You can find more information about hospice care from the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization or the American Cancer Society.
  • Choosing a hospice program that meets your loved one's needs. You can compare different hospice programs based on their services, staff, costs, and location. You can also visit the hospice facility or talk to the hospice staff to get a sense of their philosophy and approach. You can ask questions such as:
    • What services do you offer and how often?
    • Who will be part of the hospice team and how will they communicate with us?
    • How do you manage pain and other symptoms?
    • How do you provide emotional and spiritual support?
    • How do you involve the family in the care plan?
    • How do you handle emergencies or after-hours calls?
    • How do you coordinate with other health care providers?
    • How do you bill for your services and what insurance do you accept?
  • Working with the hospice team to create a care plan. The hospice team will include a doctor, a nurse, a social worker, a , a counselor, a home health aide, and a . They will work with you and your loved one to create a care plan that reflects your loved one's wishes and goals. The care plan will include details such as:
    • What medications and treatments your loved one will receive and how they will be administered.
    • What equipment and supplies your loved one will need and how they will be delivered.
    • What comfort measures and complementary therapies your loved one will use, such as massage, music, or aromatherapy.
    • What emotional and spiritual support your loved one and your family will receive, such as counseling, prayer, or rituals.
    • What legal and financial matters your loved one and your family will need to address, such as advance directives, wills, or funeral arrangements.
  • Providing care and support for your loved one. You will be the primary caregiver for your loved one, but you will not be alone. The hospice team will visit your loved one regularly and be available by phone 24/7. They will teach you how to care for your loved one, such as giving medications, changing dressings, or using equipment. They will also monitor your loved one's condition and adjust the care plan as needed. You can also ask for help from other family members, friends, or volunteers. You can help your loved one by:
    • Giving them their medications and treatments as prescribed and on time. Do not skip or change the doses without consulting the hospice team.
    • Keeping track of their pain and symptom level and how well the medications and treatments are working. Report any changes or concerns to the hospice team.
    • Providing comfort measures, such as massage, heat, ice, or distraction. You can also help them find a comfortable position, use pillows or cushions, or adjust the lighting or temperature in the room.
    • Being there for them emotionally and spiritually. Listen to their feelings and concerns without judging or interrupting. Try to be positive and hopeful, but also realistic and honest. Share your own feelings and fears with your loved one or someone else you trust. You can also seek professional help from a counselor or therapist if you or your loved one are feeling overwhelmed, depressed, or anxious.

Emotional Well-being: The end of life can be a time of mixed emotions for your loved one and your family. Your loved one may feel grateful, peaceful, or relieved, but also sad, angry, or scared. They may also have regrets, unfinished business, or unfulfilled dreams. You can help your loved one by:

  • Helping them find meaning and purpose in their life. You can help them reflect on their life story, their achievements, their values, and their legacy. You can also help them express their gratitude, forgiveness, or love to the people who matter to them. You can use different methods, such as writing, drawing, recording, or making a scrapbook.
  • Helping them cope with their fears and worries. You can help them identify and address their sources of fear and worry, such as pain, suffering, loss of control, or the unknown. You can also help them find ways to reduce their fear and worry, such as talking, praying, meditating, or breathing. You can also help them find comfort and hope in their , beliefs, or philosophy.
  • Helping them create cherished memories. You can help them make the most of the time they have left with their loved ones. You can help them plan and enjoy special occasions, such as birthdays, anniversaries, or holidays. You can also help them create meaningful gifts, such as letters, videos, or jewelry, for their loved ones to remember them by.

Conclusion

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is a type of skin cancer that can also affect other parts of the body. SCC can be mild or severe, slow, fast, easy, or hard to treat. SCC can also change over time and affect your loved one's physical, emotional, and social well-being. Caring for your loved one with SCC can be a rewarding and challenging experience. You may need to learn about SCC and its treatment, provide practical and emotional support, and cope with the complications and challenges. You may also need to take care of yourself and your own needs and well-being. In this article, we have provided you with some information, tips, and resources to help you and your loved one with SCC. We hope this article will help you and your loved one face SCC with courage and hope. 

Resources

American Cancer Society

The Skin Cancer Foundation

Cancer Care

Cancer Support Community

National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization

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