Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC) is the Second Most Common Form of Skin Cancer.

What is Squamous Cell Carcinoma?

Squamous cell carcinoma of the skin is a common skin cancer that typically develops in chronic sun exposed areas of your body. This type of skin cancer is usually not nearly as aggressive as melanoma and is uncontrolled growth of cells in the epidermis of your skin.

It can become disfiguring and sometimes deadly if allowed to grow. Squamous cell carcinomas are at least twice as frequent in men as in women. They rarely appear before age 50 and are most often seen in individuals in their 70’s.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma Stages

There are 5 stages of squamous cell skin cancer.

Stage 0 is Carcinoma in situ

This stage is not considered an invasive cancer as the abnormal cells are only in the upper layer of the skin, the epidermis.

Stage 1 and 2

This stage is determined by how big the cancer is and if there is high risk features of the tumor.

Stage 3

This stage has spread to areas below the skin, such as into lymph nodes or other local structures like muscle, bone or cartilage

Stage 4

This stage has spread to distant sites.

Most squamous cell cancer of the skin present as as Stage 0 or 1.

Symptoms

What does a Squamous Cell Carcinoma Look Like?

Squamous cell cancers of the skin can commonly present itself as:

  • Scaly red patches
  • Open sores
  • Elevated growths with a central depression
  • Warts
  • They may crust or bleed.
Risk Factors

SCC is Mainly Caused by Cumulative UV Exposure Over the Course of a Lifetime.

If you’ve had a basal cell carcinoma you may be more likely to develop a squamous cell skin carcinoma, as is anyone with an inherited, highly UV-sensitive condition such as xeroderma pigmentosum. Chronic infections, skin inflammation, HIV and other immune deficiency diseases, chemotherapy, anti-rejection drugs used in organ transplantation, and excessive sun exposure can all lead to a risk of squamous cell carcinoma.

Occasionally, squamous cell carcinomas arise spontaneously on what appears to be normal, healthy skin. Some researchers believe the tendency to develop these cancers can be inherited.

SCCs may occur on all areas of the body including the mucous membranes and genitals, but are most common in areas frequently exposed to the sun: the ear, lower lip, face, bald scalp, neck, hands, arms and legs. Often the skin in these areas also reveals telltale signs of sun damage, such as wrinkling, changes in pigmentation, and loss of elasticity, especially as the patient gets older.

People who have the following features are at highest risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma:

  • Fair skin
  • Light hair
  • Blue, green, or gray eyes
  • Precancerous lesions (actinic keratosis, actinic cheiltis, leukoplakia and Bowen’s disease)
  • Substantial sun exposure
  • Previous BCC or SCC
  • Chronic inflammatory skin conditions or chronic infections

But anyone with a history of substantial sun exposure is at increased risk. Those whose occupations require long hours outside or who spend their leisure time in the sun are also at risk.

Images and list of risk factors for squamous cell skin carcinomas
Treatment

Squamous Cell Carcinoma Treatment

Squamous cell carcinomas detected at an early stage and removed promptly are almost always curable and cause minimal damage. However, left untreated, they may grow to the point of being very difficult to treat. A small percentage may even metastasize to distant tissues and organs. Your doctor can help you determine if a particular SCC is at increased risk for metastasis and may need treatment beyond simple excision.

Fortunately, there are several effective ways to treat squamous cell carcinoma. The choice of treatment is based on the type, size, location, and depth of penetration of the tumor, as well as the patient’s age and general health. Squamous cell carcinoma treatment can almost always be performed on an outpatient basis.

When to See a Doctor

Schedule an appointment with your doctor if you observe changes in the appearance of your skin, such as finding a new growth, a change to a previous growth, or a recurring sore.