Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Squamous cell carcinoma is a major type of cancer that affects the outer layer of the skin (epidermis), as well as in the tissues that line airways and some internal organs (mucous membranes). When completely treated, the cure rate is greater than 95%.


Squamous cell carcinoma occurs most frequently on sun-exposed regions of the body, such as the face, lips, ears, neck, scalp, forearms, and backs of hands. Signs that may indicate squamous cell carcinoma include scaly red patches, elevated growth with a central indent, wart-like growths, nodules, and open sores. All of these types of lesions may develop a crusted surface or bleed.

Check for spots that meet one or more of the ABCDE guidelines of melanoma. Those are:

  • Asymmetry
  • Border irregularity
  • Color variability
  • Diameter of 6mm or more
  • Evolution or change in appearance or an appearance different from other moles

Learn how to examine your skin

Risk factors of squamous cell carcinoma

Chronic exposure to sunlight is the leading cause of squamous cell carcinoma, especially in people with fair skin, light hair, and blue, green, or grey eyes. Other contributing factors include burns, scars, exposure to radiation or chemicals, chronic inflammatory conditions, and immunosuppression.

Squamous cell carcinoma may also occur in dark-skinned people, especially at sites of preexisting inflammatory conditions or burns.

Potential consequences

If untreated, squamous cell carcinoma may penetrate and destroy underlying tissue. In a small percentage of cases, this tumor can spread (metastasize) to distant organs and may be fatal.
Men are 3 times more likely to have squamous cell carcinoma than women.
Source: American Cancer Society, 2020

Treatment options for squamous cell carcinoma

A dermatopathology specialist will assess sections of tissue from a biopsy of your skin. If it is squamous cell carcinoma, your doctor will discuss several treatment options with you. Your treatment will depend on the size, location, and type of squamous cell carcinoma. Your age and general health will also be considered.

Treatment options include:

  • Surgical removal
  • Electrosurgery
  • Radiation therapy
  • Mohs micrographic surgery

Preventing squamous cell carcinoma

To protect yourself from squamous cell carcinoma, the most important prevention measure you can take is to avoid overexposure to sunlight.

You should also inspect your entire body regularly for any skin changes, and routinely visit your physician for a skin examination.

Learn more about recommended prevention and protection techniques from Spot the Spot.

Get protection tips

Squamous cell carcinoma resources


Review information on squamous cell carcinoma or other skin disorders with your dermatologist. Download or print these brochures and bring them to your next appointment.

Open SCC brochure Open skin disorders brochure
Nonmelanoma skin cancer, including squamous cell carcinoma, affects more than 3 million Americans a year.
Source: American Academy of Dermatology Association

Other types of skin cancer

  • Also known as solar keratosis, AK is a precancerous lesion of the outer layer of skin.
  • Also known as atypical moles, these benign lesions look different than common moles.
  • This is the most common form of skin cancer and usually occurs on sun-exposed areas of the body.
  • This serious form of skin cancer affects the cells that produce melanin.
  • This common, non-cancerous lesion grows on the outer layer of the skin.