What Is Squamous Cell Carcinoma?

Squamous cell skin cancer is the second most common skin cancer found in Caucasians, usually fairer-skinned people.

This type of skin cancer typically begins in the squamous cells which are the thin, flat cells that make up the epidermis, or the outermost layer of our skin.

The good news is, it is usually not life-threatening. However, it can be aggressive if left untreated and can grow large or spread to other parts of your body.


Approximately 700,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with this type of skin cancer each year.

Signs and Symptoms of Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Squamous cells are the flat cells located in the outermost layer of our skin – the ones that continually shed. They are also the ones that can be damaged by the ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun, indoor tanning and other agents, causing the development of squamous cell carcinoma, the second most commonly diagnosed type of skin cancer after basal cell carcinoma.

Causes and Diagnoses of Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Having one or more of the risk factors below does not mean that you will ever develop skin cancer. In addition, not having any of these risk factors doesn’t mean that you will not develop skin cancer. While some risk factors like your complexion or family history are out of your control, there are others you can do something about, like exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light and no indoor tanning.

The risk factors for squamous cell skin cancer include:

  • Your age
  • Being a male
  • Excessive exposure to UV radiation – from the sun and/or tanning beds
  • History of skin cancer
  • Immunosuppression
  • Radiation exposure
  • Exposure to certain chemicals
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection
  • Smoking

Diagnosing squamous cell carcinoma

In order to determine if you have skin cancer, our team will perform a comprehensive skin exam, checking your skin for bumps or spots that look abnormal in color, size, shape or texture.

Our team will also review your medical history and ask you about:

  • Your past exposure to the sun
  • Your personal or family history of skin conditions
  • When you first noticed the spot on your skin
  • If the spot has changed at all in size or appearance

Following the exam, if we think your spot should be evaluated further, we will biopsy the spot and send the tissue sample to our dermatopathology lab where our pathologist will examine it. If cancer is found, your doctor will discuss the different options you will have for removing the squamous cell carcinoma.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma Treatments

There are several ways to remove your skin cancer depending on its size, location on your body, your age and overall health.

Our treatment options include: