Squamous cell carcinoma is a type of skin cancer that involves the squamous cells, which form most of the skin’s outer layers (the epidermis). Like all skin cancers, squamous cell carcinoma is usually caused by ultraviolet radiation from sunshine or tanning beds, but genetic defects also can trigger squamous cell carcinoma to develop. Squamous cell carcinoma can occur on any area of the body, including the mucous membranes and genitals, but are most common the skin areas most exposed to the sun, including the rim of the ear, lower lip, face, scalp (on bald areas), neck, hands, arms and legs.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma Symptoms and Diagnosis

Squamous cell carcinoma symptoms may include:

  • a thick, rough, scaly patch of skin
  • a wart-like skin bulge that bleeds if bumped, scratched or scraped
  • an open sore with a raised border and a crusted surface
Squamous Cell Carcinoma Diagnosis

If you have any skin concerns like those mentioned above, it’s important to see a dermatologist. Ultimately, the only way to diagnose squamous cell carcinoma is through a skin biopsy. The skin patch in question will be removed and sent to a pathologist for review under a microscope to check for cancer cells.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma Treatment

The type of squamous cell carcinoma treatment you receive will depend on the stage of your disease and other factors. However it may include:

  • Surgery to remove the squamous cell carcinoma and a small margin of healthy tissue around it; if your squamous cell carcinoma is localized (hasn’t spread beyond the initial site), you will not need further treatment.
  • Radiation therapy – the use of focused, high-energy x-rays to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing
  • Chemotherapy – the use of drugs to stop cancer cells from multiplying in the body
  • Photodynamic therapy – the use of medications, called photosensitizing agents, and light to kill cancer cells
  • Targeted therapy – the use of drugs or other substances to more precisely identify and attack the cancer cells or genetic mutations specific to your tumor sub-type

Learn More

The Melanoma and Skin Cancer Program provides leading edge care for patients with all types of skin cancer.

Melanoma/Skin Cancer Program