Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC)

4 February is World Cancer Day

What is squamous cell carcinoma (SCC)?

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is a common type of skin cancer occurring on your skin, especially in places where you’ve been exposed to sun.

You can get SCC wherever you have squamous cells – which is in many different parts of your body.  The squamous cells make up the middle and outer layers of all areas of skin on the body.  Squamous cell carcinoma develops when the flat cells in the top layer of your skin (the squamous cells) grow and divide in an uncontrolled way.  In people who sunburn easily, the cancer is usually found on areas of skin that have had a lot of sun.  In people with black and brown skin, squamous cell carcinomas are more likely to be on skin that isn’t exposed to sun, such as the genitals.

Most squamous cell carcinomas of the skin are caused by too much ultraviolet (UV) radiation.  UV radiation comes either from sunlight or from tanning beds or lamps.  Protecting your skin from UV light can help reduce the risk of SCC and other forms of skin cancer.

Squamous cell carcinoma is one of the most common forms of skin cancer.  SCC is usually not life-threatening or as dangerous as melanoma.  However, untreated SCCs can become invasive, grow into deeper layers of skin and spread to other parts of the body with serious complications.

What are the symptoms of squamous cell carcinoma?

SCCs look different on everyone.  The first sign of an SCC is usually a thickened, red, scaly spot on your skin that doesn’t heal.  You are most likely to find an SCC on the back of your hands, forearms, legs, scalp, ears or lips.  If it’s on your lips, it can look like a small ulcer or patch of scaly skin that doesn’t go away.

When should I seek medical help?

Not all sores on your skin are skin cancer.  But if you do develop skin cancer, the earlier it is treated, the better the outcome.

Most people find SCCs by checking their own skin.  Check your skin regularly so you notice any changes.

Seek medical help if:

  • You have a sore that doesn’t heal in 2 months.
  • You notice a new and unusual looking spot.
  • Your existing spot changes in colour, size or shape.
  • You have a spot that is asymmetrical (irregular and not round or oval).
  • You have a spot with an uneven border.
  • You have a spot with an unusual or uneven colour.
  • You have a spot that is larger than 7mm.