Risk Factors & Diagnosis

Certain people are more likely to develop squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). For example:
  • Having fair skin, light-colored eyes or blond or red hair
  • Spending too much time in the sun (without protection) or using tanning beds
  • Frequent sunburns, especially at an early age
  • Having had a previous SCC, other skin cancer or certain pre-cancerous conditions such as actinic keratosis, leukoplakia and Bowen’s disease
  • Old scars, burns, ulcers or chronic inflammation of the skin
  • Certain viruses such as HPV (Human Papillomavirus)
  • Exposure to many x-rays or chemicals
  • Having had an organ transplantation and on immunosuppressive medications

What does SCC look like?


A change on the skin is the most common sign of skin cancer, including SCC. That’s why it is important to get to know your skin. If you notice a new growth, a sore that isn’t healing or a change in an existing mole or other area of the skin, get it checked out.

SCCs might appear as:
  • an elevated wart-like lump that is small, smooth, shiny, pale or waxy
  • a flat red spot or rough patch of skin that may become itchy
  • a bleeding or crusting sore that doesn’t seem to heal
  • a red or brown patch that is rough and scaly

How is it found?


Your doctor will examine your skin. He or she may remove the growth or part of it. This is called a skin biopsy. A biopsy is needed to confirm a diagnosis.

To get a sample of the skin/suspicious spot, the area will be numbed with a medication applied to or injected into the skin. Then the doctor (often a dermatologist or skin doctor) will scrape the skin to get a sample of tissue. A different doctor (called a pathologist) will look at this tissue under the microscope to check for cancer cells. There are several types of biopsies.

Ask your doctor when he/she will review the results with you.

Can it spread beyond the skin?


SCC usually grows slowly and is contained to the outer layer of the skin. In some cases, especially if it is untreated, it can invade nearby tissue.

If multiple surgeries are needed, it can be disfiguring and may affect function. For example, if SCC grows deeply on the lower lip, surgeries to remove it may cause cosmetic issues, and also interfere with someone’s ability to smile or close their mouth..

Although possible, it is rare for SCC to spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body.

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