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Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is a common form of cancer related to a lifetime of sun exposure, and arise from the outer layer skin called the epidermis.  SCC is usually not life threatening, but if not treated properly, it may grow and spread (metastasize) to lymph nodes and other parts of the body.  This type of skin cancer first starts as “pre-cancer” called Actinic Keratosis.  If pre-cancers aren’t treated, then they progress to form the earliest form of actual squamous cell carcinoma called Bowan Disease ( SCC “ in situ”).  This type does not spread and can be successfully treated when detected early.


What to look for

SCC usually occurs on areas of the body exposed to sunlight year after year. The face, rim of the ears, lower lips, nose, head, scalp, neck, arms, hands and legs are primary areas. Slightly red, scaly skin may become much thicker and painful signaling the progression to cancer. Changes in your skin you may notice:

  • Scaly red patch
  • Open sore
  • Elevated firm growth like a nodule, wart or bump, maybe red in color
  • Crusty appearance
  • Bleeding
  • A sore that appears on an old scar

* SCC may also be found in the mouth or genitalia as an ulcer, white patch or wart.


Cause and Risks

Causes of SCC are primarily exposure to UV light (sun, tanning beds), age, history of sunburns, and genetic factors. Some of the genetic factors include: family history of skin cancer, multiple moles, light eyes, red or blond hair and fair skin tone. People with a weakened immune system are particularly susceptible to SCC.



A diagnosis of squamous cell carcinoma is made by a medical professional. The MD will examine your skin and review your medical history. A biopsy (small sample) of the growth will be obtained and analyzed in the lab. The type of biopsy will be determined by the MD.



Many treatments are available for SCC and will depend on the size, type and location

  • Mohs surgery: 100% margin evaluation, time intensive for higher risk cancers in high risk locations
  • Standard Excision: removal of the growth/lesion with predetermined margins
  • Curattage and electrodesiccation: a curette is used to remove cancerous tissue and an electric needle is used to control bleeding
  • Cryotherapy: liquid nitrogen is used to “freeze” the lesion if it is pre-cancer
  • Topical Creams: Imiquimod, 5-Fluorouracil
  • Radiotherapy: daily treatment for 4-6 weeks for patients who can’t have surgery
  • Other treatments are also available and used at the discretion of your primary physician



People who have had SCC are mostly at risk for developing a new primary skin cancer unrelated to each other.  It is very important not to delay treatment. Waiting too long may make it more difficult to treat. Simple Self-Skin exams once a month and a yearly exam by a dermatologist are highly recommended.