Squamous cell carcinoma is a form of skin cancer. It is the second most common form of skin cancer.
The cancer develops in the uppermost layer of skin cells. Squamous cell carcinoma usually grows slowly. It is rarely fatal if treated early. However, the cancer can be lethal if it spreads beyond the skin.
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Cancer occurs when cells in the body divide without control or order. Eventually these uncontrolled cells form a growth or tumor. The growths invade and take over nearby tissue. It is not clear exactly what causes these problems in the cells but it is probably a combination of genetics and the environment.
Areas of skin that are damaged have a higher risk of cancer. Skin that is regularly exposed to the sun is more likely to develop skin cancer. Squamous cell carcinoma may also develop in skin that has scars, burns, or exposure to chemicals or radiation.
Factors that may increase your chances of squamous cell carcinoma:
Symptoms may include:
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
The skin growth will be examined. A sample of the growth will be taken and examined for cancer cells. This will help determine the stage and type of the cancer. The information will be used to guide treatment and make a prognosis.
Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Options include:
Other treatments may be used based on the size or microscopic findings of the cancer. In some cases, surgery may not be an option. Other treatments may include:
To help reduce the chances of squamous cell carcinoma:
If you see any changes in your skin, such as new growths or changes in moles or freckles, contact your doctor for a skin exam.
American Academy of Dermatology
Skin Cancer Foundation
Canadian Cancer Society
Canadian Dermatology Association
Alberta Provincial Cutaneous Tumour Team. Prevention of skin cancer. Edmonton (Alberta): CancerControl Alberta; 2013 Feb. 27 p. (Clinical practice guideline; no. CU-014). Available at: https://www.guideline.gov/summaries/summary/48130?#Section420.
Cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116909/Cutaneous-squamous-cell-carcinoma . Updated October 23, 2017. Accessed March 6, 2018.
Squamous cell carcinoma. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at:
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Updated February 2017. Accessed March 6, 2018.
Squamous cell carcinoma. American Academy of Dermatology website. Available at: https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/skin-cancer/squamous-cell-carcinoma. Accessed February 25, 2015.
Sunscreen FAQs. American Academy of Dermatology website. Available at: https://www.aad.org/media/stats/prevention-and-care/sunscreen-faqs. Accessed March 6, 2018.
Last reviewed March 2018 by
EBSCO Medical Review Board
Monica Zangwill, MD, MPH
Last Updated: 3/6/2018