Most SCCs are not serious. When identified early and treated
promptly, the future is bright. However, if overlooked, they are
harder to treat and can cause disfigurement. While 96 to 97 percent
of SCCs are localized, the small percentage of remaining cases
can spread to distant organs and become life-threatening. The Skin Cancer Foundation website can provide more information on diagnosis and treatment options.
Most cases of squamous cell carcinoma are caused by chronic
overexposure to the sun. Tumors appear most frequently on the
sun-exposed face, neck, bald scalp, hands, shoulders, arms and
back. The rim of the ear and the lower lip are especially vulnerable
to these cancers.
SCCs may also occur where skin has suffered certain kinds of
injury: burns, scars, long-standing sores, sites previously
exposed to X-rays or certain chemicals (such as arsenic and
petroleum by-products). In addition, chronic skin inflammation
or medical conditions that suppress the immune system over an
extended period of time may encourage development of the disease.
Occasionally, squamous cell carcinoma arises spontaneously
on what appears to be normal, healthy, undamaged skin. Some
researchers believe that a tendency to develop this cancer may
Am I at Risk?
Anyone with a substantial history of sun exposure can develop
squamous cell carcinoma but certain environmental and genetic
factors can increase the potential for this disease.
Sunlight is responsible for over 90 percent of all skin cancers.
Working primarily outdoors, living in an area that gets a lot
of high intensity sunlight, and spending time in tanning booths
all increase your exposure to UV rays and thus increase your
risk for developing skin cancer, including squamous cell carcinoma.
People who have fair skin, light hair, and blue, green, or
gray eyes are at highest risk. More than two thirds of the skin
cancers that dark-skinned individuals develop are SCCs, usually
arising on the sites of preexisting inflammatory skin conditions
or burn injuries. It is still essential for them to practice
Previous Skin Cancer
Anyone who has had a skin cancer of any type is at increased
risk of developing another one.
People with weakened immune systems due to excessive unprotected
sun exposure, chemotherapy, organ transplantation, certain medications or illnesses such as HIV/AIDS are
more likely to develop squamous cell carcinoma.
What to Look For
Squamous cell tumors are scaly, rough, crusty growths often
on a red base. Occasionally, they will ulcerate, which means
that the epidermis above the cancer is not intact. Click here for photos on the Skin Cancer Foundation website.
Any bump or open sore in areas of chronic inflammation could
be a squamous cell carcinoma. The surrounding skin often shows
signs of sun damage, such as wrinkling, changes in pigmentation
and loss of elasticity.