Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is caused by changing cells. It can occur anywhere in the body but appears most often in areas that have had frequent sun exposure: ears, lower lip, face, scalp, neck, hands, arms and legs.

Stages: From Easily Curable to Disfiguring and Fatal

Squamous cell carcinoma in situ (also called Bowen's disease) is the earliest form of SCC. At this stage it hasn't invaded surrounding tissue. According to The Skin Cancer Foundation, SCCs detected and removed at an early stage are almost always curable and cause minimal damage. But left untreated they will eventually penetrate underlying tissues and can cause disfigurement.

The American Cancer Society points out that large, deep SCCs are harder to treat and can have a recurrence rate as high as 50 percent. In rare cases, SCCs spread to distant tissues and organs and become fatal. Therefore, have your physician examine any suspicious growths on your body as soon as possible.

Are You at Risk?

Most cases are caused by chronic exposure to sunlight or other ultraviolet radiation such as in tanning beds. People who've used tanning beds are 2-1/2 times more likely to develop SCC than those who haven't, according to The Skin Cancer Foundation.

Others at higher risk are older; have light skin; blue, gray or green eyes; red or blond hair; have had many severe sunburns at an early age; a large number of x-rays and/or exposure to petroleum byproducts and arsenic; have a suppressed immune system; have an inherited, highly UV-sensitive condition such as xeroderma pigmentosum; or have had a basal cell carcinoma or a prior SCC.

SCCs on the nose, ears and lips are especially prone to recurrence.

Warning Signs

  • Large, reddish, scaly, crusted patches (often larger than 1 inch).

  • A growing bump with a rough, scaly surface and flat reddish patches, usually on the face, ears, neck, hands or arms.

  • A sore that doesn't heal.

  • Any change in color, size or texture of an existing wart, mole or other lesion.

  • Pain, inflammation, bleeding or itching of an existing skin sore.

Treatment Options

  • Simple excision

  • Electrodesiccation and curettage

  • Cryosurgery

  • Radiation therapy

  • Lymph node dissection

  • Systemic chemotherapy

  • Laser surgery

  • Topical medications

  • Photodynamic therapy

When detected and treated early, SCCs can be removed or destroyed with local treatment methods. Once they've spread you'll need more intensive treatment. Mohs micrographic surgery can be highly effective for recurrences.

For more information visit The U.S. National Library of Medicine's MedLine Plus, The Skin Cancer Foundation and The American Cancer Society.