Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is a type of cancer that develops in the squamous cells. Squamous cells are a type of cell that makes up the middle and outer layer of the epidermis. Squamous cells can be found in many places all over the body, therefore SCC can originate anywhere squamous cells are located. Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common form of skin cancer, following basal cell carcinoma. Squamous cell cancer of the lung accounts for about one-third of all lung cancers; and most cancers of the cervix, vagina, anus, and head and neck are SCCs.

Squamous cell carcinoma is typically slow-growing and not life-threatening, though it can be aggressive and if left untreated can grow or metastasize to other parts of the body. Squamous cell carcinoma is at least twice as frequent in men than in women. It can occur at any age, but is more likely to be diagnosed in people over the age of 50 years.

Signs and symptoms of SCC of the skin typically start with changes in skin, and may include one or more of the following:

  • Firm, red nodule
  • Flat sore with scaly crust
  • New sore or raised area on skin
  • New rough, scaly patch
  • Open, bleeding sore
  • Red sore or rough patch inside mouth
  • Red, wart-like sore

The exact underlying cause or causes of SCC of the skin are unknown, though increased risk is highly associated with excessive exposure to the ultraviolet (UV) radiation found in sunlight or in the artificial light found in tanning lamps and beds. Other suggested risk factors include age, light skin tone, hair and eye color, a weakened immune system due to various infections and diseases, exposure to certain chemicals, radiation therapy, a personal history of sunburns, skin cancer or precancerous skin lesions, and genetic predispositions. Treatment may vary depending on the size and location of the tumor, as well as the patient’s overall general health. Squamous cell carcinoma can metastasize to nearby organs or lymph nodes, in which case complications and treatment options may be more serious. In general SCC, if caught early, is highly curable. Though highly uncommon, if left untreated, SCC can be fatal.

Treatment options for SCC of the skin may include one or more of the following:

  • Cryosurgery
  • Dermabrasion
  • Electrodesiccation and curettage (ED&C)
  • Laser therapy
  • Lymph node surgery
  • Medicated creams or lotions
  • Mohs surgery
  • Simple excision

For more information on other types of SCC, see Squamous Cell Head and Neck Cancer