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Living Well

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Last updated: Jun 03, 2010



The second most common skin cancer, squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) affects more than 250,000 Americans each year. It typically appears in people age 50 years or older, and it is more common in men than women.1

SCC is commonly found on the face, neck, hands, arms, and legs. But it also can occur anywhere on the body, including the scalp, lips, ears, genitals, and mucous membranes. SCC typically starts in the top layer of skin or epidermis; however, if it’s not treated, it can grow into deeper tissue and spread (metastasize) to other tissues and the organs. Because deeper and larger tumors require extensive surgery, allowing SCC to grow can cause the loss of an eye, ear, or a nose. In some cases, SCC that has spread to other tissues and organs can lead to death.

Although SCC is sometimes difficult to tell apart from normal skin in its early stages, SCC usually appears as a:

  • Firm, red or reddish-brown nodule on the face, lower lip, ears, neck, hands, and arms
  • Flat, scaly, crusty sore on the face, ears, neck, hands, and arms
  • Scar or ulcer that has developed a new sore-like or raised area
  • Flat, white patch or ulcer inside the mouth
  • Raised red patch or sore in or on the anus or genitals

Who’s at risk
You might be at risk for SCC if you have:

  • Fair skin and blue, green, or grey eyes
  • Spent or spend lots of time in the sun
  • Used or use tanning beds
  • Precancerous growths from sun damage
  • Previously had basal or squamous cell tumors
  • An inherited condition such as xeroderma pigmentosum
  • Had skin injuries from burns, scars, ulcers, long-lasting sores, X-rays,
  • and chemicals
  • Had long-lasting skin infections
  • Had inflamed areas on your skin
  • An immune deficiency disease
  • Had chemotherapy or medication for organ transplantation
  • A family history of SCC

Although people with fair skin have a higher risk for SCC, the majority of skin cancer in African Americans is SCC. For this reason, it’s important for everyone to protect him- or herself from ultraviolet rays.

The best way to avoid SCC is to:

  • Stay out of the sun between 10 AM and 4 PM
  • Avoid sun tanning and burning
  • Avoid tanning booths
  • Use clothing, hats, and sunglasses with ultraviolet protection
  • Use a daily sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher 
  • Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before going outside; reapply it every 2 hours after swimming and sweating
  • Examine your skin at least once a month
  • Visit your dermatologist each year

“SCC often is curable if it is found and removed early,” says Summit Medical Group dermatologist Monib Zirvi, PhD, MD. “Especially as you age, regular skin check ups can help prevent serious problems and protect your overall health.”

Summit Medical Group offers a wide range of treatment for SCC, including Mohs micrographic surgery, excisional surgery, curettage and electrosurgery, cryosurgery, radiation, photodynamic therapy, laser surgery, and topical medications. If you have a squamous cell tumor, the extent of your surgery will depend on your age and health as well as the type, size, location, and depth of your tumor. In most cases, squamous cell tumors can be removed with minimal discomfort.

For more information or to schedule an appointment,
please call Summit Medical Group Dermatology
at 908-277-8668.


Click here to learn more about protecting yourself from the sun.

Skin Cancer Foundation. Squamous cell carcinoma: The second most common skin cancer. www. Accessed June 2, 2010.