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Cancer - skin - squamous cell


Squamous cell skin cancer is a type of tumor that affects the middle layer of the skin.

Alternative Names

Cancer - skin - squamous cell; Skin cancer - squamous cell


Squamous cell cancer results when cells in the middle part of the skin start to change. The changes may begin in normal skin or in skin that has been injured or inflamed. Most skin cancers occur on skin that is regularly exposed to sunlight or other ultraviolet radiation. It is most often seen in those over age 50.

Risks for squamous cell skin cancer include:

  • Exposure to sunlight and ultraviolet radiation
  • Older age
  • Having light-colored skin, blue or green eyes, or blond or red hair
  • Chemical pollution
  • A large number of x-rays
  • Arsenic

Squamous cell cancer spreads faster than basal cell cancer, but still may be relatively slow-growing. It can spread (metastasize) to other locations, including internal organs.

See also: Actinic keratosis


The main symptom of squamous cell skin cancer is a growing bump that may have a rough, scaly surface and flat reddish patches.

The bump is usually located on the face, ears, neck, hands, or arms, but may occur on other areas.

A sore that does not heal can be a sign of squamous cell cancer. Any change in an existing wart, mole, or other skin lesion could be a sign of skin cancer.

Exams and Tests

The appearance of the skin lesion may indicate a squamous cell carcinoma. A biopsy and examination of the lesion confirms the diagnosis.


Skin cancer has a high cure rate if it is treated early. Treatment depends on how big the tumor is, its location, and how much it has spread (metastasis).

Surgery to remove the tumor is often recommended. Microscopic shaving (Mohs' surgery) may be used to remove small tumors. Skin grafting may be needed if wide areas of skin are removed.

Radiation therapy may help reduce tumor size. Chemotherapy can be used if surgery and radiation fail, but it usually does not work very well for squamous cell cancer.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Most (95%) of squamous cell tumors may be cured if removed promptly. New tumors may develop, so affected individuals should be diligent about examining the skin. Regular examination by the health care provider is usually required.

Possible Complications

  • Local spread of the tumor
  • Metastasis to other locations, including the internal organs

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call for an appointment with your health care provider if any change in color, size, texture, or appearance of a skin lesion develops. Also call if there is pain, inflammation, bleeding, or itching of an existing skin lesion.


Reduce your sun exposure. Protect your skin from the sun by wearing protective clothing such as hats, long-sleeved shirts, long skirts, or pants.

Sunlight is most intense at mid-day, so try to limit exposure during these hours. Use high-quality sunscreens, preferably with SPF (sun protection factor) ratings of at least 15. Apply the sunscreen at least 30 minutes before going outside and re-apply frequently. Use a sunscreen throughout the year, even during the winter.

Examine the skin regularly for development of suspicious growths or changes in an existing skin lesion. A new growth that forms an ulcer or is slow to heal is suspicious.

Suspicious changes in an existing growth include a change in color, size, texture, and appearance, or development of pain, inflammation, bleeding, or itching.

A growth that is asymmetrical, has irregular or diffuse borders, has multiple colors mixed in one lesion, or is larger than 6 mm (millimeters) diameter is suspicious.

American Cancer Society.Cancer Facts and Figures 2006. Atlanta, GA: American Cancer Society; 2006.

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