What is squamous cell carcinoma?
Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is the second most common form of skin cancer. About 2 in every 10 skin cancers are squamous cell carcinoma.
Squamous cell carcinoma occurs when damage from exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays leads to abnormal changes in the top layer of the skin, known as the squamous cells.
After the skin has changed, squamous cell carcinoma can occur.
Squamous cell carcinoma can develop in all parts of the body, although it is more common in areas of the skin which are usually exposed to the sun.
While the majority of SCC can be easily treated, if not diagnosed in the early stages, it can become dangerous and even deadly.
Causes of squamous cell carcinoma
Understanding what causes squamous cell carcinoma and the factors that increase your risk can help you prevent the disease or detect it in its earliest stages, when it’s easiest to treat.
UV exposure from the sun
- Prolonged exposure to UV radiation is thought to be the major risk factor for most skin cancers. Although they affect the skin differently, both UVA and UVB can damage the skin. About 90% of non-melanoma skin cancers, like squamous cell carcinoma, are associated with exposure to UV radiation from the sun.
- Tanning beds emit UV radiation that is dangerous and raises your risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma. People who have tanned indoors have a 67% increased risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma compared with those who haven’t.
Weakened immune system due to illness or certain immunosuppressive medications
- People with weakened or suppressed immune systems from certain diseases or medical treatments are more likely to develop SCC.
History of skin cancer, including basal cell carcinoma (BCC) or melanoma
- If you have had a past history of squamous cell carcinoma or basal cell carcinoma, you have a high chance of developing a form of the disease again.
People with fair skin have an increased risk
- Anyone can get skin cancer, but people with light-colored skin have a much higher risk than people with darker skin color. Those who burn easily, have fair skin, freckles or blue or green eyes, and naturally red or blonde hair have an increased risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma.
Age & gender
- Individuals over the age of 50 are at higher risk. Men are also twice as likely to develop squamous cell carcinoma as women, although women are being diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma more often than before.
Chronic infections and skin inflammation from burns, scars and other conditions
- Previous injuries like scars from severe burn or areas of skin over serious bone infections are more likely to develop skin cancers, although this risk is generally small in these cases.
More on: Causes of basal cell carcinoma
Symptoms of squamous cell carcinoma
The lesions can have a variety of appearances in sun-exposed areas of your body. Check for squamous cell carcinoma, especially in the face, ears, neck, scalp, chest, shoulders and back, but remember that they can occur anywhere on the body.
These cancers can appear as:
- Rough or scaly red patches, which might crust or bleed
- Crusted thick nodule, sometimes with a lower area in the center
- Open sores that do not heal, or that heal and then come back later on
- Wart-like bump
- Rough, scaly patched on your lip that may evolve to an open sore
- Red sores or rough patches inside your mouth
Sometimes, the exact symptoms of squamous cell carcinoma can be hard to spot. If a mole has gone through recent changes in color or size, always bring it to the attention of a dermatologist as soon as possible.
More on: SCC symptoms
The earlier the skin cancer is detected, the easier it is to treat it. Learning about the warning signs on your skin gives you the power to detect cancer early when it’s easiest to cure.
SkinVision can be used as a tool to help to screen skin cancer or track changes in suspicious skin spots (however, it cannot prevent skin cancer from developing).
Always check your entire body and look for new or changing lesions that increase in size, bleed or do not heal.
More on: SCC prevention
Frequently asked questions about SCC
What does a Squamous cell carcinoma skin cancer look like?
Squamous cell skin cancers can vary in how they look.
Squamous cell carcinoma initially appears as a skin-colored or light red lump or patch, usually with a rough surface (hyperkeratosis).
They can also occur as a wart-like growth or resemble open bruises with raised edges ,that may crust or bleed.
The lesion tends to grow slowly and can develop into a large tumor, sometimes with central ulceration.
Do all SCC lesions look the same?
Not all squamous cell carcinoma have the same appearance, but here in our website you can see some good examples of how they might appear on your skin and warning signs to look out for.
How to spot a Squamous cell carcinoma ?
Check for squamous cell carcinomas in sun-exposed areas in your body , especially the face, ears, neck, scalp, chest, shoulders and back, but remember that they can occur anywhere on the body.
Early detection strategies are very important for the successful outcome of this disease. Knowing your body and the changes that can be dangerous in it gives you the power to detect cancer early when it’s easiest to cure, before it can become dangerous, disfiguring or deadly.
If in doubt, have your skin lesion checked. Follow up on new or changing lesions that grow, bleed or do not heal.
Where can I find squamous cell carcinoma in my body?
Squamous cell carcinoma can develop anywhere on the body but is most often found in sun- exposed areas, especially the face, ears, neck, scalp, chest, shoulders and back .
It can also develop inside the mouth, on the genitals, or in the tissue beneath a fingernail or toenail.
Is a squamous cell carcinoma painful?
Squamous cell carcinoma usually begins as a small, painless red lump or patch of skin. It grows slowly and if left untreated it can ulcerate and become painful.