What is Squamous Cell Carcinoma of the Lung?

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  • Written By: C. Webb
  • Edited By: Daniel Lindley
  • Last Modified Date: 21 September 2018
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Squamous cell carcinoma of the lung is one of the small cell lung cancers. Unlike other lung cancers, squamous cell carcinoma is almost exclusively contracted by people exposed to tobacco smoke. The cells of this cancer are white and flat and resemble fish scales. Treatment includes chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery.

Risk factors for the development of squamous cell carcinoma of the lung include smoking cigarettes, being a former smoker, or being exposed to second-hand smoke. The longer a person has been away from risk factors, the more his or her chance of developing squamous cell carcinoma decreases. Each passing year following cessation of smoking further lowers the risk.

Symptoms of squamous cell carcinoma of the lung are a cough that will not go away, hoarseness of the voice, and shortness of breath. In addition, breathing difficulty or coughing up bloody mucus may also indicate the presence of lung cancer. As the cancer advances, symptoms may include extreme fatigue and loss of weight that cannot be explained.

Diagnosis of squamous cell carcinoma of the lung is a straightforward procedure. A physical examination that includes a medical history will be taken. The examination will look for lumps. Blood is drawn to check blood counts and cancer markers. A chest x-ray can illuminate spots on the lungs, and further examination including a biopsy can definitively determine the presence of cancer.


Once the cancer is staged, indicating how far it has already progressed, treatment can begin. Treatment typically includes combining radiation and chemotherapy. Surgery is not usually recommended as a treatment for squamous cell carcinoma except in very rare cases and when the cancer happens to be discovered in its infancy. A majority of patients are also offered several rounds of radiation to the brain to attempt to prevent the cancer spreading there.

Several medical procedures are also recommended to determine how far the cancer has spread. Lymph nodes will be examined and a wedge resection to remove a small piece of a lung for examination may be recommended. In some cases, doctors may recommend the removal of a lobe or the entire lung where cancer is found.

Clinical trials are also available for patients who have not had success with traditional treatments. Patients who do not wish to undergo traditional treatments may also apply for some clinical trials. Treatment for squamous cell carcinoma does not cure the cancer, but in many cases could prolong the patient's life.



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