What Causes Spindle Cell Carcinoma?

Reviewed on 8/25/2022
A young woman having her skin checked by a dermatologist
Squamous cell skin cancers are most commonly caused by skin exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light from sunlight and tanning beds. Other risk factors include  being male, smoking, alcohol consumption, and previous irradiation.

Spindle cell carcinomas are a rare and aggressive type of squamous cell carcinoma that form in the skin or tissue cells that line the body’s internal organs.

  • This form of cancer is characterized by abnormal spindle-shaped cells. Spindle cell skin carcinomas often develop within the mouth, on the lip, on the tongue, and inside the throat. 
  • Squamous cell carcinoma is one of the most common types of non-melanoma skin cancer that occurs when cells in the top layer of skin (the epidermis) grow out of control.

Most squamous cell skin cancers are caused by repeated and unprotected skin exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light from sunlight and tanning beds, however, spindle cell carcinomas are not caused by sun exposure. 

Risk factors for developing spindle cell carcinoma include: 

  • Being male 
    • Males are seven times more likely to be diagnosed with spindle cell carcinoma than females
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Previous irradiation

What Are Symptoms of Spindle Cell Carcinoma?

There may be no early signs of spindle cell carcinoma because it often develops internally. When symptoms of spindle cell carcinoma occur, they may include:

  • Pain around the affected area
  • Swelling 
  • Ulcers
  • Bleeding
  • A burning or prickling feeling in the hands, arms, or feet 

How Is Spindle Cell Carcinoma Diagnosed?

Spindle cell carcinoma is much harder than squamous cell carcinoma to detect and distinguish from other tumors, and may be misdiagnosed as benign (not cancerous). 

Spindle cell carcinoma is diagnosed with a physical examination and patient history, along with tests such as: 

What Is the Treatment for Spindle Cell Carcinoma?

Surgery is the main treatment for spindle cell carcinoma. There is no clear evidence that radiation therapy or chemotherapy offers an advantage in terms of survival. 

The survival rate for spindle cell carcinoma is 39%, compared to the squamous cell skin cancer survival rate, which is 99% when caught early. 

Reviewed on 8/25/2022

Image source: iStock Images