After the initial surgical procedure or other treatment for your squamous cell skin cancer, you can take proactive measures to prevent additional tumors from forming (secondary prevention). These preventive steps include keeping an appropriate follow-up medical appointment schedule, conducting skin self-examinations, and practicing sun safety.*
After you have completed your treatment for squamous cell skin cancer, it is important to keep all follow-up medical appointments, because you are at risk of your squamous cell skin cancer returning (recurring) as well as for developing a new squamous cell skin cancer. Seventy to eighty percent of squamous cell skin cancer cases that recur come back within the first two years of the initial treatment. Of all patients with squamous cell skin cancer, thirty to fifty percent will develop another squamous cell skin cancer within five years. You are also at risk of developing other skin cancers, such as melanoma, so it is important to be followed closely by your dermatologist.
The table below shows the recommended follow-up schedule and exams/tests for different stages of squamous cell skin cancer.
It’s important that you conduct skin self-examinations on a regular basis. These exams are an important aspect of early detection for squamous cell skin cancer and other skin cancers. If you’re unsure how to perform a skin self-exam, click here for a pictorial tutorial. If you find anything suspicious during your exam, call your dermatologist’s office and tell them that you’ve been treated for squamous cell skin cancer.
If you had a high risk squamous cell skin cancer or if you had cancer in your lymph nodes, your healthcare provider will examine your lymph nodes at your follow-up appointments. You should also be examining your own lymph nodes on a monthly basis. Below are the steps you can take:
Head-and-Neck Lymph Nodes
Lymph Nodes in the Armpit
Lymph Nodes in the Groin
Examine two areas in the groin:
Patients with a history of squamous cell skin cancer need to practice meticulous sun protection. You can review guidelines for protecting yourself from UV radiation in the SUN SAFETY section. The main points are:
Chemoprophylaxis, which is use of a chemical agent or drug to prevent the development of a disease, has a limited role in patients with squamous cell skin cancer. The oral retinoid acetritin (Soriatane®) is recommended for solid organ transplant recipients with a history of squamous cell skin cancer to prevent additional squamous cell skin cancers from developing. However, oral retinoids can have significant side effects, including harmful effects on developing embryos and fetuses. This drug must be used with extreme caution in women of child-bearing potential. Experts disagree about the use of other agents such as nicotinamide, a vitamin B3 supplement, or other retinoids such as tretinoin, retinol, and isotretinoin, for chemoprophylaxis. If you are in a high-risk group, it’s important to have a conversation with your doctor about chemoprophylaxis and which options might make sense for you.
*In this section, we refer to follow-up and other secondary prevention strategies. We consulted the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) guidelines on these topics. These professional groups are the foremost authorities on skin cancer management. To consult these guidelines, please see RESOURCES.
Images on lymph-node examination from the British Association of Dermatologists (BAD) Skin Support website.[Permission pending]