Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC)

With more than 250,000 new cases each year, Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common skin cancer in the U.S. SCC is a cancer that forms in the outer layer of the skin and usually appears as either a growing tumor, non-healing ulcer or a crusted, scaly patch with a red, inflamed base. SCC often develops from small, sandpaper-like growths called actinic keratoses.

Squamous cell carcinomas are most common on sun-exposed areas of the skin, such as the face, neck, arms, scalp, ears and the backs of the hands, but can occur anywhere on the body. SCC is more common in middle-aged and elderly people, especially those with fair skin.

Risk Factors

Ultraviolet light exposure (from the sun or tanning parlors) greatly increases the risk of all skin cancers, including SCC. Those with light skin who sunburn easily have the highest risk. Heavy sun exposure and severe sunburns in childhood may especially increase this risk. Less common conditions, such as organ transplantation, chronic skin ulcers, prior x-ray treatment (in the 1950’s) and exposure to certain toxins, may also increase the likelihood of skin cancer.


Left untreated, squamous cell carcinoma can destroy much of the tissue surrounding the tumor and may result in the loss of a nose or ear. In certain aggressive forms, SCC can spread to the lymph nodes and other organs becoming more deadly. However, with early detection and treatment it is uncommon for SCC to spread.

Dermatologists can choose from a variety of surgical treatment options depending on the size, location and other characteristics of the tumor as well as the patient’s health and other factors. Most surgical options are relatively minor procedures performed in the office with local anesthesia.

Some of the options include:

  • Surgical excision to remove the entire tumor.
  • “Mohs” micrographic surgery, performed by dermatologic surgeons with specialized training, is used to remove the whole tumor while sparing more normal skin.
  • Laser surgery
  • Cryosurgery (freezing the tumor with liquid nitrogen)
  • Radiation therapy
  • Electrodesiccation and curettage, or alternately scraping or burning the tumor combined with low levels of electricity.


The primary form of prevention is avoiding ultraviolet light exposure as much as possible. Do not use tanning parlors or sunlamps and take precautions to protect your skin from the sun. Learn how at The Sun and Your Skin.