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Squamous Cell Carcinoma


What is squamous cell carcinoma?

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is a slow growing cancer that usually does not spread. Squamous cells are in skin tissue, and in the lining of the organs, respiratory tract, and digestive tract. SCC can develop in any of these areas, but it is most common in skin areas that get a lot of sun.

What increases my risk for SCC?

  • Age 60 years or older
  • Fair skin or light hair
  • A history of long-term exposure to the sun or ultraviolet (UVA or UVB) rays from tanning beds
  • Exposure to chemicals such as coal tars, arsenic, or radium
  • A history of other skin disorders, such as actinic keratosis, radiation dermatitis, or burn scars
  • Cigarette or alcohol use
  • A human papillomavirus (HPV) infection

What are the signs and symptoms of SCC?

You may have the following, depending on where the SCC develops:

  • A sore on the skin that does not heal
  • A small, red, or scaly bump that crusts over
  • An area of skin that itches, bleeds easily, or is painful
  • Sore throat or hoarse voice
  • Pain when you swallow
Squamous Cell Carcinoma of the Skin

How is SCC diagnosed and treated?

A biopsy (small sample) may be taken and tested for cancer. Treatment depends on where the SCC is located:

  • Cryosurgery is a procedure that uses a chemical, called liquid nitrogen, to freeze and kill a small area of tissue. The tissue dies and later falls off.
  • Mohs surgery is used to remove only skin with cancer cells and as little healthy tissue as possible. Thin layers of the tumor are scraped off one at a time until all the cancer cells are removed.
  • Surgery is used to remove the cancer.
  • Electrodesiccation and curettage is used for skin SCC. The tumor is scraped and then heated with an electric probe to kill the cancer cells.
  • Laser therapy uses a narrow beam of light to kill the cancer cells.
  • Topical chemotherapy is given as a lotion or cream to put directly on skin cancer to kill cancer cells.
  • Radiation uses x-rays or gamma rays to treat cancer. Radiation kills cancer cells and may stop the cancer from spreading. It may be used for hard-to-treat areas, such as the eyelids, tongue, or esophagus.

What can I do to manage or prevent SCC?

  • Prevent skin cancer:
    • Wear sunscreen when outdoors. Use sunscreen with an SPF (sun protectant factor) of at least 15 and UVA and UVB protection. Reapply after you swim or sweat. If you need to be in the sun, wear a hat and long-sleeved shirts and pants to cover your skin.
    • Stay out of the sun between 10 am and 4 pm. This is when the sun is the strongest and most damaging to your skin.
    • Do not use tanning booths. These can damage your skin as much as the sun.
    • Examine your skin monthly. Watch for growths or moles that change size, shape, or color.
  • Do not use tobacco. Tobacco products may make your symptoms and cancer worse. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you currently smoke and need help to quit. E-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco still contain nicotine. Talk to your healthcare provider before you use these products.
  • Do not drink alcohol. Alcohol increases the risk for SCC of the mouth and throat. Alcohol may also make your symptoms worse.
  • Eat healthy foods. Healthy foods include fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads, low-fat dairy products, beans, lean meats, and fish. Take small bites, and chew your food well before you swallow. Be especially careful when you eat meat, fruits, and vegetables. You may need to change what you eat during treatment. A dietitian may help to plan the best meals and snacks for you.
  • Drink liquids as directed. If you have nausea or diarrhea from cancer treatment, extra liquids may help decrease your risk for dehydration. Ask how much liquid to drink each day and which liquids are best for you.
  • Exercise as directed. Exercise may help increase your energy level and appetite. Ask your healthcare provider how much exercise you need and which exercises are best for you.
    Walking for Exercise

Where can I find support and more information?

  • American Cancer Society
    250 Williams Street
    Atlanta , GA 30303
    Phone: 1- 800 - 227-2345
    Web Address:

Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) if:

  • You have chest pain.
  • You have shortness of breath.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You have trouble thinking clearly.

When should I call my doctor?

  • You have a new growth or a mole that changes size, shape, or color.
  • You have a fever.
  • You have chills, a cough, or feel weak and achy.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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