Squamous Cell Carcinoma

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What Is Squamous Cell Carcinoma?

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is a type of nonmelanoma skin cancer. It may appear as nodules or red, scaly patches of skin.

Squamous cell carcinoma is responsible for approximately 2,500 deaths per year in the United States and represents the second most common type of skin cancer in the world.

What Causes Squamous Cell Carcinoma?

SCCs often appear on sun-exposed parts of the body and develop from cumulative exposure to ultraviolet sunlight and tanning beds. SCCs are slow growing and, like basal cell carcinoma, they may become locally destructive if untreated and invade fat, muscle, cartilage and bone.

The risk factors for squamous cell carcinoma include:

  • Excessive exposure to UV radiation from sunlight or tanning beds
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection
  • Smoking
  • History of skin cancer
  • Immunosuppression, such as in people who have had organ transplants
  • Treatment of psoriasis
  • Long-term skin inflammation or injury
  • Radiation exposure
  • Exposure to certain chemicals
  • Older age
  • Male gender
  • Xeroderma pigmentosum (XP), a rare inherited condition

Signs and Symptoms of Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Squamous cell carcinoma often arise from pre-existing actinic keratoses. Some common symptoms include:

  • Rough, crusted or scaling growths over a red, inflamed base
  • Open sores that ooze, bleed and do not heal
  • Flat white patches on the lips or inside the mouth
  • Commonly found on sun-exposed areas of the body such as the rim of the ear, face, lips and mouth

Treatment for Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Although generally more aggressive than basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma is highly treatable. In rare cases, SCC may spread to other parts of the body. In most cases, it is cured with minor surgery or other treatments.

The type of treatment a patient receives depends on the SCC’s size and whether it has spread. At UCLA Dermatology, we often treat SCC with one or more of the following procedures:

  • Dermatologic surgery, including the following procedures:
    • Curettage and electrosurgery to scrape away skin tissue, followed by cauterizing the wound with an electrosurgical unit
    • Excision to cut away and remove the growth
    • Mohs' micrographic surgery to remove lesions layer by layer, leaving healthy tissue undamaged
  • Laser therapy using a narrow beam of light to destroy cancer cells
  • Radiation therapy using X-rays to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors
  • Photodynamic therapy using a certain type of light and a special chemical to kill cancer cells
  • Topical (skin-based) chemotherapy given as a cream or lotion on the skin to kill cancer cells

Contact Us

For more information or to schedule an appointment, call (310) 825-6911.