Squamous cell carcinoma of the skin: Causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment

Carcinoma is a medical term for cancer. Squamous cell is a subtype of skin cancer. Basically squamous cell carcinoma is the most common subtype of skin cancer. It can develop on any area of the skin, such as face, trunk or extremities. Its definitive diagnosis entails pathologic examination. The main treatment for this condition is surgical resection.


The exact cause of squamous cell carcinoma remains unknown. The incidence of skin cancer is more higher in those who are exposed to sun without protection than those without exposure or with protection. Therefore it is speculated that the UV light from the sun may be blamed for the skin cancer. The following are risk factors for the development of skin squamous cell carcinoma.

  • Fair skin
  • Long-term sun exposure without protection
  • Organ-transplant recipients or patients with HIV
  • Xeroderma pigmentosum or similar inherited disease.


Common symptoms of squamous cell carcinoma include:

  • A firm nodule
  • A flat sore
  • Open sores with elevated edges

The following is a picture of squamous cell carcinoma on the lip.


Physical exam of the lesion is not specific. In suspicious cases, your doctor would remove a tiny amount of your skin tissue and send it to the pathology lab for examination. The pathologic diagnosis is definitive.


Before treatment, your doctor would evaluate your status to make clear whether the cancer has spread to other areas, since the treatment varies.

Treatment for skin squamous cell carcinoma that has not spread:

Surgical excision: With this procedure, your dermatologist would remove your cancer and a margin of apparently normal tissue to make sure that your cancer has been completely resected.

Mohs surgery: This kind of procedure generally reserves for squamous cell carcinoma that is located in specific areas, such as face where extensive surgical resection is obviously unfeasible and cosmetically unacceptable.

Cryosurgery: This technique is used for patients who can not tolerate skin surgery and those with a relatively small skin cancer. It uses an extremely cold temperature to destroy cancer cells.

Treatment for skin squamous cell carcinoma that has already spread:

Surgery is still the preferred and most effective treatment. In general, chemotherapy or radiation therapy should be used following surgical excision.

Radiation therapy: For those deemed to be inoperable, radiation therapy may be used to destroy the cancer cells.

Immunotherapy: The FDA has already approved the use of cemiplimab for the treatment of patients with skin squamous cell carcinoma that cannot be treated with radiation or surgery.


The most important preventive measure is to protect sunlight damages, such as by wearing sunscreen or protective clothing. Avoid tanning beds since they could emit UV light.

* The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.