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Bowen's disease on the hand
Bowen's disease on the hand



Skin cancer, squamous cell - close-up
Skin cancer, squamous cell - close-up

Skin cancer, squamous cell on the hands
Skin cancer, squamous cell on the hands

Squamous cell carcinoma - invasive
Squamous cell carcinoma - invasive

Cheilitis, actinic
Cheilitis, actinic

Squamous cell cancer
Squamous cell cancer


Squamous cell skin cancer is a type of tumor that affects the skin.

Alternative Names:

Cancer - skin - squamous cell; Skin cancer - squamous cell

Causes, incidence, and risk factors:

Squamous cell cancer results 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 spreads faster than basal cell cancer , but still may be relatively slow-growing. It can spread (metastasize) to other locations, including internal organs.

See also: Actinic keratosis


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.

Signs and tests:

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.

Support Groups:

Expectations (prognosis):

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

Calling your health care provider:

Call for an appointment with your health care provider if you see the lesion change in:

  • Appearance
  • Color
  • Size
  • Texture

Also call if you have pain, inflammation, bleeding, or itching of an existing skin lesion.


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

Sunlight is most intense at midday, so try to limit exposure during these hours. Use high-quality sunscreens, preferably with SPF (sun protection factor) 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.

Examine the skin regularly for any new suspicious growths or changes in an existing skin lesion. A new growth that forms an ulcer or is slow to heal is suspicious.

Suspicious changes in an existing growth include:

  • A change in color, size, texture, or appearance
  • Development of pain, inflammation, bleeding, or itching

References: American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts and Figures 2006. Atlanta, GA: American Cancer Society; 2006.

Review Date: 1/22/2008
Reviewed By: Michael Lehrer, M.D., Department of Dermatology, University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, Philadelphia, PA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

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Wentworth-Douglass Hospital
789 Central Avenue, Dover, NH 03820
Phone: (603) 742-5252
Toll free: 1 (877) 201-7100