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Squamous cell skin cancer

Definition

Squamous cell cancer is a common type of skin cancer.

Other common types of skin cancer are:

Alternative Names

Cancer - skin - squamous cell; Skin cancer - squamous cell; Nonmelanoma skin cancer - squamous cell; NMSC - squamous cell; Squamous cell skin cancer; Squamous cell carcinoma of the skin

Causes

Squamous cell cancer may occur in undamaged skin. Or it can occur in skin that has been injured or inflamed. Most squamous cell carcinomas occur on skin that is regularly exposed to sunlight or other ultraviolet radiation.

The earliest form of squamous cell cancer is called Bowen disease (or squamous cell carcinoma in situ). This type does not spread to nearby tissues.

Actinic keratosis is a precancerous skin lesion that may become a squamous cell cancer.

Risks of squamous cell cancer include:

Symptoms

Squamous cell cancer usually occurs on the face, ears, neck, hands, or arms. It may occur on other areas.

The main symptom is a growing bump that may have a rough, scaly surface and flat reddish patches.

The earliest form (squamous cell carcimoma in situ) can appear as a scaly, crusted, and large reddish patch that can be larger than 1 inch.

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.

Exams and Tests

Your doctor will check your skin and look at the size, shape, color, and texture of any suspicious areas.

If your doctor thinks you might have skin cancer, a piece of skin will be removed. This is called a skin biopsy. The sample is sent to a lab for examination under a microscope.

A skin biopsy must be done to confirm squamous cell skin cancer or other skin cancers.

Treatment

Treatment depends on the size and location of the skin cancer, how far it has spread, and your overall health. Some squamous cell skin cancers may be more difficult to treat.

Treatment may involve:

Outlook (Prognosis)

How well a person does depends on many things, including how soon the cancer was diagnosed. Most of these cancers are cured when treated early.

Some squamous cell cancers may return.

Possible Complications

Squamous cell cancer spreads faster than basal cell cancer, but still may grow slowly. It may spread to other parts of the body, including internal organs.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call for an appointment with your health care provider if you have a sore or spot on your skin that changes in:

Also call if a spot becomes painful or swollen or if it starts to bleed or itch.

Prevention

The American Cancer Society recommends that a health care provider examine your skin every year if you are older than 40 and every 3 years if you are 20 to 40 years old. You should also examine your own skin once a month.

If you have had skin cancer, you should have regular checkups so that a doctor can examine your skin. You should also check your own skin once a month. Use a hand mirror for hard-to-see places. Call your doctor if you notice anything unusual.

The best way to prevent skin cancer is to reduce your exposure to sunlight. Always use sunscreen:

Other measures to help you avoid too much sun exposure:

References

Bhambri S, Dinehart S, Bhambri A. Squamous cell carcinoma. In: Rigel DS, Robinson JK, Ross M, et al., eds. Cancer of the Skin. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 12.

National Cancer Institute: PDQ Skin Cancer Treatment. Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute. Date last modified July 20, 2012. Available at http://cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/treatment/skin/HealthProfessional. Accessed August 19, 2013.

National Comprehensive Cancer Network. NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology (NCCN Guidelines): Basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers. Version 2.2013. Available at http://www.nccn.org/professionals/physician_gls/pdf/nmsc.pdf. Accessed August 19, 2013.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration. FDA press release: FDA announces changes to better inform consumers about sunscreen. Available at http://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/ucm258940.htm. Accessed August 19, 2013.


Review Date: 8/9/2013
Reviewed By: Kevin Berman, MD, PhD, Atlanta Center for Dermatologic Disease, Atlanta, GA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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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