Squamous Cell Carcinoma: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment and Management Tips

SCC can spread to other parts of the body. With early diagnosis and treatment, SCC is highly curable.

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is a common skin cancer in humans.

SCC is possible anywhere on the body, including the inside of the mouth, lips, and genitals. However, there is a tendency to develop in the areas that have the most exposure to the sun, such as the face, neck and hands.

Women often have squamous cell carcinoma on the lower legs.

People who use tanning beds are at a much higher risk of getting SCC. They also tend to have SCC earlier in life.

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) symptoms

The signs include:

  • A lump or bump on the skin that may be rough.

In adults 40 and older, about 40 to 60 percent of SCCs start in an AK.

Signs and symptoms of an AK include:

  • Small, pink, rough, dry, scaly patch or growth or growth on the skin.
  • Rough patch or growth that feels irritated or even painful when rubbed.
  • Itching or burning in a patch of skin.
  • The lips feel constantly dry and are whitish or flaky.


This skin cancer is more common in fair-skinned people who have spent years in the sun. But people of all skin colors have squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). Your risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma increases if you have any of the following risk factors:

Physical features

  • Pale or light-colored skin
  • Blue, green or gray eyes.
  • Blonde or red hair.

Activities carried out

  • Spending a lot of time outdoors, for work or pleasure, without using sunscreen or covering myself with clothing.
  • Use tanning beds or solar lamps.
  • Exposure to chemicals that cause cancer (for example, arsenic in drinking water, tar, worked with some insecticides or herbicides).
  • Smoked tobacco
  • Spending a lot of time near heat, such as a fire.

Medical history

  • Diagnosed with actinic keratosis (AK).
  • Severely burns your skin.
  • Ulcer or ulcer on your skin that has been there for many months or years.
  • Taking medicine that suppresses your immune system.
  • Infected with the human papillomavirus (HPV).
  • Long-term overexposure or exposure to X-rays, such as patients who received X-ray treatments for acne in the 1940s.
  • He received many PUVA treatments.
  • You have one of these medical conditions: xeroderma pigmentosum, epidermolysis bullosa, or albinism.

Most squamous cell carcinomas are caused by ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun or tanning beds.

Squamous cell carcinoma diagnosis

The only way to diagnose any type of skin cancer, including squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), is with a skin biopsy. Your dermatologist can perform this procedure during an office visit.

A skin biopsy should not cause anxiety. To perform a skin biopsy, your dermatologist will remove all or part of the growth. Your dermatologist can send it to a lab or look at it under a microscope.

The findings will be communicated in a biopsy report.

If the biopsy report indicates that you have SCC, your dermatologist will consider many factors to determine which treatment will be the best.


The type of treatment a patient receives depends on how deep the cancer has grown and whether it has spread. Squamous cell carcinoma is often treated with:

Excision : This is a surgical procedure that your dermatologist can often perform during an office visit.

It involves numbing the area to be treated and cutting out any remaining tumor plus some normal-looking skin around the tumor.

Like a skin biopsy, this removed skin is examined under a microscope. This can be done in a laboratory or by your dermatologist.

The doctor who looks at the removed skin needs to see if the normal-looking skin is free of cancer cells. Otherwise, more skin will need to be removed. This is a common way to treat SCC.

Mohs Surgery : Named for the doctor who developed this surgery, Mohs (pronounced “moes”) is a specialized surgery used to remove some skin cancers.

Offers the highest cure rate for difficult-to-treat squamous cell cancers. Your dermatologist will tell you if Mohs surgery is right for you.

If Mohs surgery is recommended, here is what to expect. The surgeon will cut the tumor plus a small amount of normal-looking skin that surrounds the tumor.

While the patient waits, Mohs’s surgeon uses a microscope to see what was removed. The surgeon is looking for cancer cells.

If necessary, the Mohs surgeon will continue to remove a very small amount of skin and view it under the microscope. This continues until the surgeon no longer sees cancer cells.

Radiation : This treatment is generally reserved for SCCs that cannot be cut, or when cutting may not be the best option. A patient may need 15 to 30 radiation treatments.

When squamous cell carcinoma is found early, it can be treated with:

  • Curettage and electrodesiccation : This treatment consists of two steps. First, your dermatologist scrapes the tumor. The electricity is then used to destroy any remaining cancer cells. These two steps are repeated.
  • Photodynamic Therapy (PDT) : This treatment uses light to kill some very early skin cancers. PDT is a two-step process. First, a chemical is applied to the skin. The chemical stays on the skin for a while so it can be absorbed. The skin is then exposed to special light to kill cancer cells.
  • Laser treatment : Lasers can be used to remove SCC that is on the surface of the skin. This treatment is only recommended for early SCC.
  • Chemotherapy cream: Cream that contains a chemotherapy drug, 5-fluorouracil (5-FU), can be used to treat SCC in the earliest stage.

Management tips

Most people diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) have a very good prognosis. When caught early and removed, this skin cancer has an excellent cure rate.

Anyone who has had squamous cell carcinoma has a higher risk of getting another skin cancer. To help patients manage this higher risk, dermatologists recommend the following:

  • Make all follow-up appointments with your dermatologist. When found early, skin cancer can usually be cured. Even melanoma, the deadliest skin cancer, has a nearly 100% cure rate when caught early and treated.
  • Perform skin self-exams. Patients who are diagnosed with skin cancer are taught to examine their own skin for signs of skin cancer. Be sure to examine your own skin as often as your dermatologist recommends.
  • If you see something on your skin that is growing, bleeding, or changing in any way, immediately call your dermatologist’s office. The change may be a sign of skin cancer. Found early and treated, skin cancer can be cured.
  • Protect your skin from the sun and tanning indoors. This is essential to avoid further damage, which can increase your risk of getting another skin cancer.

Here are some tips that dermatologists give their patients to help protect their skin:

Be sure to use sunscreen and lip balm that offer:

  • SPF 30 or more.
  • Broad spectrum protection (UVA / UVB).
  • Waterproof.
  • Apply sunscreen and lip balm to dry skin 15 minutes before going outside.
  • Apply sunscreen to every part of your body that will not be covered by clothing.
  • Whenever possible, wear a wide-brimmed hat, long sleeves, and pants.
  • Wear sunglasses to protect the skin around your eyes.
  • Avoid outdoor activities when the sun is strongest, between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
  • Avoid tanning and never use a tanning bed or sunlamp.
  • Your dermatologist may recommend the use of condoms. This can prevent an HPV infection, which reduces the risk of squamous cell carcinoma of the genitals.
  • Limit the amount of alcohol you drink and don’t smoke. Smoking and drinking alcohol can increase the risk of getting SCC in the mouth.