Squamous Cell Carcinoma

SCC or Squamous Cell Carcinoma refers to the growth of abnormal cells in the squamous cells, which make up the epidermis (upper skin layers). In most cases, SCC will appear as open sores, scaly red patches, and raised growths with a depression at the center, warts that bleed, or crust. Squamous cell carcinoma is viewed as a slow growing skin cancer. However, it is different from other types of skin cancer as it can spread to the lymph nodes, tissues and bone making it difficult to treat. If it is diagnosed early, it is treatable.

What Do Squamous Cell Carcinoma Look Like?

Also referred to as squamous cell cancer, 2 out of 10 cancers of the skin are squamous cell carcinomas. The cells that are seen in these cancers appear like abnormal versions of normal squamous cells found on the outer layers of the skin.

These types of cancers occur on the parts of the body that are mostly exposed to the sun like the back of the hands, lips, neck, ears and face. Those that suffer from chronic skin sores and scars are at risk of getting these cancers. In some cases, they begin in actinic keratosis. They commonly do not form in the genital area skin.

Symptoms of squamous cell carcinoma include:

  • A red nodule that is firm
  • Flat sore with a crust that is scaly and bleeds when scratched
  • A raised area or new sore on an old ulcer or scar
  • Rough scaly patch on the lips that might open up
  • Rough patch or red sore inside the mouth
  • Wart-like sore or a red elevated sore on or in the genitals or anus
  • Large growths that are painful and or itchy

What Causes Squamous Cell Carcinoma?

Squamous cell carcinoma occurs when errors occur in the DNA of the thin flat squamous cells. Normally, when new cells are formed, they push out the old ones that eventually die to give room for the new ones. When an error occurs, this order is distorted and cells grow out of control. The ultraviolet rays from the sun, tanning beds and lamps are responsible for damaging the DNA in our skin cells. However, the occurrence of skin cancer in places that do not come into direct contact with the sun indicates that there other reasons that can lead to cancer of the skin like exposure to toxics or having a weak immune system.

Risk Factors

There are factors that can make you more prone to squamous cell carcinoma. They include:

  • Old age
  • Male
  • If you are fairly skinned
  • Gray, blue or green eyes
  • Red or blonde hair
  • A lot of exposure to sunlight
  • Tanning beds and bulbs
  • Exposure to chemicals like arsenic in the water for a long time
  • HIV, AIDS, HPV or Bowen’s disease
  • Exposure to radiation
  • Hereditary DNA condition


A physical exam is conducted by a doctor by examining your skin to look for any symptoms of SCC. Questions will also be asked concerning your health history. To confirm squamous cell carcinoma a sample tissue is tested by cutting part or the entire part with the suspicious lesion (biopsy). The situation you are in will determine the kind of biopsy you go through. The sample is tested in a laboratory.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma Treatment

Most SCC can be removed with a minor surgery or in some cases topical medication. However, treatment depends on how serious the condition is, its location and size. Some of the treatments include:



Curettage and Electrodesiccation (ED and C)


This method is used for very small SCC. It involves removal of the cancer with a curet (scraping instrument) and burning the base of the cancer with an electric needle.

Laser Therapy


If the lesion is superficial, this method is used. An intense beam of light is used to vaporize the growth with little damage to the tissue around it. However, there is a risk of bleeding, scaring and swelling.



This method is also used for superficial lesions. Liquid nitrogen is used to freeze the cancer cells.

Photodynamic Therapy


Light and photosensitizing medication are used in this method. A drug in liquid form is applied on the affected area after which light, which destroys the cancer cells, is shone upon it.

Medicate Lotions and Creams


Lotions and creams containing Anti-cancer drugs can be used on very superficial cancers.

Simple Excision


This method involves cutting off of the cancerous tissue and part of the normal tissue surrounding it. For places like the face, see a doctor who can also do skin reconstruction to minimize scarring.

Mohs Surgery


This involves removal of the cancer tissue layer by layer. Each layer is examined till there is no more evidence of abnormal cells. This ensures that all the cancerous cells are taken out and excessive healthy tissue is not removed.


Radiation Therapy


High energy beams like X-rays are used in this procedure to kill the cancerous cells. This is an option for tumors that are deep and there are chances of them recurring even after surgery. People who cannot go through surgery also use this method.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma Prognosis

If squamous cell carcinoma is detected early, it can be treated. However, if SCC is not treated it can spread to other parts of the body and this will be painful and serious.

How well you respond to treatment depends on several things including when the cancer was diagnosed. When discovered early most of these cancers can be treated.

Remember that SCC can be recurrent so preventive measures must be practiced as explained below.

Here you can learn locally advanced Cutaneous Squamous Cell Carcinoma pictures and its reaction to treatments.

How to Prevent Squamous Cell Carcinoma

  • Avoid sunlight during peak hours
  • Daily use of sunscreen
  • Wear clothes that protect exposed parts of the body
  • Stay away from tanning beds
  • If you have ever been diagnosed with skin cancer, there are chances of it recurring, so go for checkups frequently.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma in Other Parts of Body

Squamous cell carcinoma can spread to other parts of the body apart from the upper layers of the skin. These include: lungs, lining of the digestive tract, mouth, esophagus, urinary bladder, vagina, cervix, prostrate among others. When it occurs in other parts of the body, it is usually a more severe cancer.

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