The Cancer You’ve Never Heard of … Is Common and Can Be Dangerous

(BPT) - If you’re not familiar with cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma (CSCC), the second most common cancer in the United States, you’re not alone. CSCC is a skin cancer that’s five times more common than melanoma – and also has the potential to become deadly. Yet nearly three out of four Americans know little about CSCC, according to a recent Skin Cancer Foundation survey of 2,010 adults in the U.S.

The survey, conducted by the Harris Poll on behalf of the Skin Cancer Foundation in coordination with Regeneron and Sanofi, revealed some alarming truths about Americans’ awareness of skin cancer. While nearly 90% of respondents were familiar with melanoma, 42% had never even heard of CSCC, despite the fact that it’s the more prevalent skin cancer. While 95% of CSCC cases are curable in early stages, approximately 40,000 cases each year progress to advanced stages.

“These survey findings reveal that CSCC is virtually unknown to most Americans, and most have significant misconceptions of how dangerous it can be if it progresses,” says Skin Cancer Foundation President Deborah S. Sarnoff, M.D. “This large gap in knowledge highlights the urgent need to increase public awareness of CSCC, including understanding of the seriousness of advanced cases.”

Getting educated about CSCC is critical. If you don’t know what CSCC is, it’s time to learn more about the signs and risk factors so you know when to talk to your doctor. If you are familiar with CSCC, make sure you know what to look for if you’ve been diagnosed before and your CSCC keeps coming back, or if it seems to be spreading. This might mean it is advancing.

Know If You Are at Risk for CSCC

One of the most troubling statistics brought to light by the survey is the fact that CSCC awareness is low even among the people who are at a greater risk for it. Risk factors include age (people 65 and over), gender and where you live. Men, for example, are three times as likely as women to get CSCC. But most men (74%) are unfamiliar with it.

People who live in southern states and those who tend to spend more time in the sun are also more likely to be diagnosed with CSCC. Many years of sun exposure, whether due to an outside job or simply an active outdoor lifestyle, contribute to CSCC. Yet most people in the southern half of the U.S. (72%) don’t know about CSCC.

Learn How to Recognize CSCC

While CSCC can often be cured when caught early, approximately 40,000 cases each year progress to advanced stages, when the cancer spreads or recurs and becomes difficult to treat successfully.

It is recommended that all adults schedule regular visits with their dermatologist. As an added precaution, to detect CSCC as soon as possible, it’s important to understand what the disease can look like, where it may be on your body and what kinds of symptoms could be cause for concern. CSCC typically occurs on parts of the body that are regularly exposed to the sun, including the face, ear, neck, lip and back of the hands, but it can develop on other areas, too. Check your body for any unusual spots, including those that may be rough, scaly or red patches, raised lumps, open sores or wart-like growths. These are all potential signs and should be examined by a doctor right away. Adults should check their skin each month.

If diagnosed with CSCC, your doctor will monitor your condition to assess if you may be at high risk for having your disease become more serious. Doctors call this “advanced” CSCC, and it may mean that the cancer is invading deeper into the skin, or is spreading to other areas on your body. If you are at risk for advanced CSCC, it is very important to schedule more frequent visits with your doctor.

Diagnosed With CSCC? Treatment Options May Depend on Disease Stage

Most people who have CSCC are treated early with surgery and are typically cured. In some cases where surgery is not an option, patients may be treated with radiation. But if your cancer is considered advanced, you may need a systemic therapy. Your doctor will help you determine your treatment options. That’s why it’s so important to talk to him or her not only about your disease, but about treatment options, too. The doctor will explain what is available, depending on the nature of the CSCC, and the benefits and risks associated with each option.

Don’t Be Another CSCC Statistic

This year alone, approximately 1 million cases of CSCC will be diagnosed across the country, and an estimated 40,000 will become advanced. Be proactive with your health: understand the facts about CSCC, and if you have already been diagnosed, talk to your doctor about whether you may be at risk for advanced disease.

For more information on the results of the survey and CSCC, including risk factors and the signs of advanced disease, visit skincancer.org/CSCCsurvey.