Last Updated: October 25, 2017
Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is a cancer that forms in squamous cells. Squamous cells are thin cells found in the most superficial layer of the skin (epidermis) and other mucous membranes in the body. Cancer cells grow as a mass (tumor) that may also invade other tissues or spread to other parts of the body.
SCC is a major type of skin cancer. SCC usually develops on sun-exposed parts of the body, especially the head, neck, hands, and legs, but it may develop elsewhere. Other sites can include the lips, mouth, lung, digestive tract, bladder, anus, and genitals.
Early stages of SCC are highly curable with minor surgery. Rarely, SCC spreads (metastasizes) beyond the skin to other areas of the body. This form of advanced cancer requires much more extensive treatment.
Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun is the predominant cause of skin cancer. Cumulative sun exposure and the use of tanning beds are the major factors. Anyone can develop squamous cell carcinoma; however, certain Individuals have an increased risk.
Individuals with light-colored skin, freckled skin, blond hair, red hair, and light eyes have a greater risk for skin cancer. People with dark skin are more likely to develop skin cancer in parts of the body that are not exposed to the sun, such as the feet.
Areas of skin with scars, burns, or ulcers have a higher risk of developing SCC. Other risk factors include tobacco, tar exposure, cancer-causing chemicals (such as arsenic and insecticides), radiation exposure, and human papillomavirus (HPV). Additionally, anyone with a weak immune system or an organ transplant has an increased risk of SCC.
Squamous cell carcinoma commonly occurs in areas of skin with high sun exposure such as the face, scalp, head, neck, ears, hands, arms, and legs.
Common symptoms include the following:
A biopsy is the main method for diagnosing SCC. A physician performs a biopsy by cutting out the growth for examination with a microscope.
When squamous cell carcinoma is diagnosed, the physician determines the extent (stage) of the disease by evaluating the depth of the cancer and whether it has spread. Treatment for SCC depends on the cancer’s stage. Early SCC is highly curable, whereas advanced SCC, which has spread to lymph nodes or metastasized to other sites, is more difficult to treat.
Protecting skin from the sun is the most important way to prevent any type of skin cancer. Preventive measures include avoidance of direct sun exposure during the hours of 10 am to 3 pm (when UV radiation is highest) and use of sunscreen with sun protection factor (SPF) 30 or higher. Additionally, tanning bed use and smoking should be avoided.
Individuals should routinely perform a self-examination of the skin to check for new growths on the face, neck, ears, arms, legs, hands, feet, trunk, mouth, genitals, and buttocks. An examination by a health care professional is also important for detection of early signs of cancer.