Squamous cell carcinoma is a type of skin cancer that affects sun-exposed skin. The tumors are often slow growing and appear in skin that may already be sun damaged. Sometimes they can grow rapidly and become thick and volcano-like. The appearance of tumors can vary, but it commonly appears as a firm red nodule. In some cases they may change color, develop ulcerations and bleed, or develop a crusty or wart-like surface. Since they are hard to distinguish, they can be mistaken for other skin conditions such as actinic keratosis. Tumors can be found on any part of the skin that is exposed to the sun. They may also appear in areas such as the inside of the mouth, the anus and genitals in which case they may be associated with HPV infection. People who are immuno-suppressed (such as after kidney or heart transplants) have a tenfold increased risk of squamous cell cancer. Cigarette smoking increases the risks of squamous cell carcinoma twofold. People who have ulcers, thermal burns and other non-healing wounds also have an increased risk of squamous cell carcinomas. If detected and treated early, this cancer rarely causes any further complications.

Common symptoms of squamous cell carcinoma include:

  • Appears as a firm red nodule that on the face, ears, neck, forearms, backs of hands, and legs
  • Can develop an ulcer and bleed
  • Can change over time into a hard, pale pink-to-red nodule
  • Can develop a scaly crust or a wart-like surface
  • Can arise from old scars
  • May be painful


Chronic exposure to the sun’s UV rays is the primary cause of skin cancers including squamous cell carcinoma. Over time, skin damage from UV radiation can accumulate, causing damage to the skin’s cells. A mutation of DNA causes the squamous cells to multiply rapidly and keep growing on top of each other, resulting in the development of a cancerous tumor.

Proper and gentle skin care is important in caring for skin damaged by UV light. Use gentle cleansers that are fragrance and allergen free to avoid irritating damaged areas of the skin. Look for moisturizers that contain UV filters, which can offer additional safeguards against UV radiation. Make sure to apply these frequently and generously, to adequately hydrate and protect the skin.

Since squamous cell carcinoma is caused by exposure to UV rays, it’s important to take preventative measures when going outdoors.

Limit sun exposure: Reducing your time in the sun is perhaps the easiest way to avoid damage to your skin caused by UV rays. When outdoors, set a time limit and seek shade when necessary. Also keep in mind that UV radiation is the strongest between the hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Use Sunscreen: Sunscreens are an essential part of protection against the sun. Look for sunscreens labeled “Broad Spectrum”. They are often the most effective and offer protection against both UVA and UVB rays. Apply generously and frequently.

Cover and protect: Wrap-around sunglasses, wide-brimmed hats and clothing that covers your arms and legs, can offer extra protection against the sun’s harmful UV rays. Look for any changes in your skin: If any changes in existing moles, or new skin growths are noticed, consult with a dermatologist immediately to determine if the symptoms may be precancerous.

Daily use of a sunscreen can greatly reduce your chances of developing squamous cell carcinoma. Look for sunscreens that contain Benzophenone, Oxybenzone, Avobenzone, Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide.These active ingredients help to prevent sun damage and skin cancer. Make sure your sunscreen offers protection against both UVA and UVB rays. These will be simply labeled “broad spectrum”.

A variety of medical procedures can treat squamous cell carcinoma. Curettage and electrodessication are used to remove small lesions, but surgical excision is the preferred therapy.Radiation is used for small to medium lesions, lesions that have recurred after surgery and to control the symptoms/growth of large tumors.Systemic chemotherapy is used for squamous cell cancer that has spread to other areas of the body. Mohs micrographic surgery is for more aggressive tumors and lesions that have spread to nerves, cartilage or bone.Tumors that have been left untreated for a long time, or areas with a high chance of recurrence are also treated with this procedure.Surgical excision is used for larger tumors, along with a margin of cancer free skin (significantly larger areas than taken in cases of basal cell carcinoma).