Last Updated: May 14, 2018

Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC)

Overview

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.

Causes and Risk Factors

Illustration of skin cross-section showing different layers of skin

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) (learn how you can buy a reliable home HPV test kit online to check for HPV). Additionally, anyone with a weak immune system or an organ transplant has an increased risk of SCC.

Symptoms 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:

Diagnosis and Treatment

squamous cell carcinoma on nose

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.

Stages of SCC

Treatment of SCC

Prevention

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.

Sources

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Carla Hightower, MD

Dr. Hightower is an experienced physician who studied medicine at Northwestern University, where she also earned an MBA. As the founder of Living Health Works, she offers health coaching to individuals, private groups and corporations.