Squamous Cell Skin Cancer

What is it?

Squamous cell skin cancer is a non-melanoma skin tumor. Squamous cell cancer occurs when cells in the skin start to change. The changes may begin in normal skin or in skin that has been injured or inflamed. Most skin cancers occur on skin that is regularly exposed to sunlight or other ultraviolet radiation. Skin cancer is most often seen in people over age 50.

Risks for squamous cell skin cancer include:

  • A large number of x-rays
  • Arsenic
  • Chemical exposure
  • Exposure to sunlight and ultraviolet radiation
  • Having light-colored skin, blue or green eyes, or blond or red hair
  • Older age

Squamous cell cancer is usually relatively slow-growing. Rarely, it can spread (metastasize) to other locations, including internal organs.


The main symptom of squamous cell skin cancer is a growing bump that may have a rough, scaly surface and flat reddish patches.

The bump is usually located on the face, ears, neck, hands, or arms, but may occur on other areas.

A sore that does not heal can be a sign of squamous cell cancer. Any change in an existing wart, mole, or other skin lesion could be a sign of skin cancer.

Tests & diagnosis

A lesion on the skin may indicate a squamous cell carcinoma. A biopsy and examination of the lesion can confirm whether it is squamous cell cancer.


Skin cancer has a high cure rate if it is treated early. Treatment depends on how big the tumor is, its location, and how much it has spread (metastasis).

Surgery to remove the tumor is often recommended. Microscopic shaving (Mohs surgery) may be used to remove tumors in visible areas, such as the nose, ears, and other areas of the face. Skin grafting may be needed if wide areas of skin are removed.

Radiation therapy may help reduce tumor size. Chemotherapy can be used if surgery and radiation fail, but it usually does not work very well for squamous cell cancer.


Most (95%) of squamous cell tumors can be cured if removed promptly. New tumors may develop, so if you've had squamous cell cancer, have your skin regularly examined by your health care provider.


  • Local spread of the tumor
  • Spread to other locations, including the internal organs


Reduce your sun exposure. Protect your skin from the sun by wearing hats, long-sleeved shirts, long skirts, or pants.

Sunlight is most intense from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., so try to limit exposure during these hours. Use high-quality sunscreens, preferably with sun protection factor (SPF) ratings of at least 30. Apply the sunscreen at least 30 minutes before going outside and reapply frequently. Use a sunscreen throughout the year, even during the winter.