An Overview of Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / Honayst

What is a squamous cell?

One of three main types of cells in the top layer of the skin (the epidermis), squamous cells are flat cells located near the surface of the skin that shed continuously as new ones form. SCC occurs when DNA damage from exposure to ultraviolet radiation or other damaging agents trigger abnormal changes in the squamous cells.

What does SCC look like?

SCCs can appear as scaly red patches, open sores, rough, thickened or wart- like skin, or raised growths with a central depression. At times, SCCs may crust over, itch or bleed. The lesions most commonly arise in sun-exposed areas of the body.

SCCs can also occur in other areas of the body, including the genitals. SCCs look different on everyone.

Please note: Since not all SCCs have the same appearance, these photos serve as general reference for what they can look like. If you see something new, changing or unusual on your skin, schedule an appointment with your dermatologist.

A persistent, scaly red patch with irregular borders that sometimes crusts or bleeds. An open sore that bleeds or crusts and persists for weeks. A wart-like growth that crusts and occasionally bleeds.

How dangerous is SCC?

While the majority of SCCs can be easily and successfully treated, if allowed to grow, these lesions can become disfiguring, dangerous and even deadly. Untreated SCCs can become invasive, grow into deeper layers of skin and spread to other parts of the body.

Did you know? 15,000+ Americans die each year from squamous cell carcinoma

How widespread is SCC?

While SCC is less common than basal cell carcinoma (BCC), the number of reported SCC cases in the U.S. has steadily increased.

  • An estimated 1.8 million cases of SCC are diagnosed each year, which translates to about 205 cases diagnosed every hour.
  • SCC incidence has increased up to 200 percent in the past three decades.

Read more on: skin cancer, squamous cell carcinoma