Skin cancer is a big deal. These days, more people are being diagnosed with skin cancer than ever before. Long hours, days and months in the sun or lounging in tanning beds may make you look toned and buff now, but you may end up paying for it later. Squamous cell cancer is easily treatable when detected early, but if it metastasizes (travels) somewhere else in the body, it can affect other vital organs and functions.
Metastasis is the process that occurs when a cancer has spread from a point of origin (primary site) to another location, or locations (secondary site), in the body. When discovered and treated early, most types of skin cancer can be treated and cured before they have a chance to metastasize. Squamous cell carcinoma can metastasize, or travel, to other parts of the body. Squamous cell carcinoma often metastasizes from a cancerous skin growth also known as actinic keratosis through blood vessels or lymph system fluids to major organs to form tissue masses or tumors that may range in size from a pencil eraser to a softball.
Squamous skin cells are most commonly found in the inner skin layers. This type of cancer is most often caused by prolonged exposure to UV rays, but is often more prevalent in those who are aging or those whose family heredity predisposes them to certain types of cancer. Individuals who sunburn often and easily, as well as those who are fair skinned, are more prone to being diagnosed with skin cancer.
Squamous skin cancer or squamous cell carcinoma often metastasizes to major body organs such as the lungs, brain and liver and to the bones and adrenal glands. Squamous skin cell cancer is known to metastasize quite quickly if not treated early. The National Cancer Institute prints a fact sheet that defines some common behaviors in metastatic cancers. For example, lung cancers often spread to the brain, while cancers of the colon often spread to the liver. Cancers commonly metastasize in several ways--through tissues, the bloodstream or the lymphatic system.
Signs and Symptoms of Metastasizing Cancer
Some people may experience metastatic cancer and not know it until symptoms present. For example, someone who has been treated for breast cancer which has metastasized to the brain might experience symptoms like headaches, dizziness or nerve-related symptoms like blurred vision, difficulty hearing and so forth. Someone experiencing cancer that metastasizes to the liver might experience weight loss, jaundice, pain in the abdomen or even edema (swelling or fluid retention) in the legs. Every secondary cancer site may offer different signs and symptoms.
In most cases, diagnostic tests may be performed to help pinpoint not only original cancer (primary) sites, but also secondary or metastasis sites. Common diagnostic exams may include but are not limited to bone scan X-rays, CT (computerized tomography) scans, needle aspiration or biopsy and MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging) or ultrasound.
According to the National Cancer Institute, nearly one million people are diagnosed with skin cancer every year. To prevent skin cancer, avoid prolonged exposure to the sun during daylight hours, wear sunscreen every day (during all seasons) and avoid tanning beds. In addition, regularly check your skin for moles, bumps or lumps that you didn't notice before, and keep track of any freckles or moles that seem to be growing or changing shape or color.