Squamous Cell Carcinoma: Causes, Risk Factors, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment and Protection

Also known as squamous cell cancer or (SCC), it is a type of skin cancer that begins in squamous cells as the name implies.

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, SCC is the second most common form of skin cancer. It is usually found in areas of the body damaged by UV rays from the sun or tanning beds. Sun-exposed skin includes the head, neck, ears, lips, arms, legs, and hands.

SCC is a slow-growing skin cancer. Unlike other types of skin cancer, it can spread to nearby tissues, bones, and lymph nodes, where it can be difficult to treat. However, when detected early, it is easy to medicate.

This type of cancer is caused by changes in the DNA of cells, causing them to multiply uncontrollably. Approximately 700,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with SCC each year.

People with this diagnosis often develop red scaly patches, open sores, or warts on the skin.

The condition is generally not life-threatening, but it can become dangerous if it is not treated before it involves any part of the body.

In this way, when treatment is not received promptly, the growths of bumps, sores or affected areas can increase in size and spread to other parts of your body, causing serious complications.

Your skin has multiple layers, the outer protective layer of the skin known as the epidermis is made up of:

  • Squamous cells.
  • Basal cells.
  • Melanocitos.

These cells are constantly shed to make way for new skin cells. However, when certain genetic changes occur in the DNA of any of these cells, skin cancer can occur.

Squamous cell carcinoma causes and risk factors

Among the possible causes and risk factors we find:

  • Advanced age.
  • Male.
  • White skin.
  • Blue, green or gray eyes.
  • Blonde or red hair.
  • Spend time outside; exposed to UV rays from the sun.
  • Tanning beds.
  • Long-term exposure to chemicals like arsenic in water.
  • Bowen’s disease, HPV, HIV, or AIDS.
  • Exposure to radiation.
  • Inherited DNA condition.


SCC usually begins as a dome-shaped lump or a red, scaly patch of skin . It is usually rough and crisp, and can bleed easily when scraped off. Large growths can be itchy or painful.

It can also appear through scarring or chronic skin ulcers, so check for any changes and report it to your doctor.

Squamous cell carcinoma diagnosis

Your doctor can refer you to a dermatologist who specializes in skin conditions. He will ask about your medical history, your history of severe sunburn or indoor tanning, any pain or symptoms you have, and when it first appeared.

You will have a physical exam to check the size, shape, color, and texture of the site. The dermatologist will also look for other spots on your body and feel your lymph nodes to make sure they are not larger or harder than normal.

If your doctor thinks a lump looks questionable, he or she will remove a sample of the spot (a skin biopsy) and send it to a lab for analysis.


Squamous cell carcinoma can usually be treated with minor surgery that can be done in a doctor’s office or in a clinic or hospital.

Depending on the size and location of the SCC, your doctor may choose to use any of the following techniques to remove it:

  • Excision : removing the cancer stain and some healthy skin around it.
  • Surgery – Using a small hand tool and an electronic needle to kill cancer cells.
  • Mohs surgery : excision and then inspection of the removed skin under a microscope.
  • Lymph node surgery : a piece of the lymph node is removed, general anesthesia is used.
  • Dermabrasion : “sanding” the affected area of ​​the skin with a tool to make way for a new layer.
  • Cryosurgery : freezing the spot with liquid nitrogen.
  • Topical chemotherapy : a gel or cream applied specifically to the affected area of ​​skin.
  • Targeted drug treatment.

How to protect yourself?

  • Avoid the sun during peak hours.
  • Use sunscreen daily.
  • Wear clothing to cover exposed areas.
  • Avoid tanning beds.

If you have been diagnosed with skin cancer, you are more likely to have it again, so visit your doctor for regular skin checkups.