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Squamous Cell Carcinoma
(Skin cancer-Squamous Cell)
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 chance of developing squamous cell carcinoma include:
- History of radiation or ultraviolet light treatment
- Childhood sunburns , freckling, or long periods of sun exposure
- A personal history of skin cancer
- A family history of skin cancer
- Blonde or red hair
- Blue or green eyes
- Fair skin that rarely tans
- Treatments or medications that suppress the immune system
- Frequent use of tanning beds
- Exposure to cancer causing chemical such as arsenic, tar, or some insecticides
- Past infection with human papillomavirus (HPV)
- A raised red patch that is scaly or rough
- A raised patch of skin that may appear to have horn-like rough edges
- In color, the patch may be reddish, pink, flesh-colored, or reddish-brown
- A long-standing sore that will not heal with simple at-home treatment
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:
- Mohs micrographic surgery—microscopic surgery that offers the best cure rate for squamous cell carcinoma
- Removing the growth with simple surgery
- Plastic surgery to repair any cosmetic problems that occur after treatment
For people who are not able to have surgery, other treatment options include:
- Freezing the growth off with liquid nitrogen
- Laser treatment
- Radiation therapy
- Photodynamic therapy—the cells absorb an acid that causes them to die when exposed to light
- Topical creams, especially fluorouracil or imiquimod
To help reduce the chance of squamous cell carcinoma:
- Avoid spending too much time in the sun.
- Avoid exposing your skin to the sun between 10:00 AM and 2:00 PM standard time, or 11:00 AM to 3:00 PM daylight saving time.
- Protect your skin from the sun with clothing. Wear a shirt, sunglasses, and a hat with a broad brim.
- Use broad-spectrum (UVA and UVB) sunscreens with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or more on skin that will be exposed to the sun.
- Use a protective lip balm.
- Wear sunglasses with 99% to 100% UV absorption to protect your eyes.
- Do not use sun lamps or tanning booths.
- Get regular full-body skin exams by a dermatologist. The doctor will check for moles, freckles, and other growths.
American Academy of Dermatology
American College of Mohs Micrographic Surgery
Canadian Dermatology Association
Canadian Cancer Society
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: http://www.guideline.gov/content.aspx?id=48130#Section420. Accessed February 25, 2015.
Jerant A, Johnson J, Sheridan CD, Caffrey TJ. Early detection and treatment of skin cancer. Am Fam Physician. 2000;62(2):357-368.
Saraiya M, Glanz K, Briss P, et al. Preventing skin cancer. MMWR. 2003;52(RR15):1-12.
Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated January 16, 2015. Accessed February 25, 2015.
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 February 25, 2015.
- Reviewer: James Cornell, MD
- Review Date: 03/2016
- Update Date: 10/20/2014