The Second Most Common Skin Cancer
Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) of the skin is the second most common form of skin cancer, characterized by abnormal, accelerated growth of squamous cells. When caught early, most SCCs are curable.
SCC of the skin is also known as cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma (cSCC). Adding the word “cutaneous” identifies it as a skin cancer and differentiates it from squamous cell cancers that can arise inside the body, in places like the mouth, throat or lungs.
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. You can find more images, as well as signs, symptoms and early detection strategies on our SCC Warning Signs page.
Please note: Since not all SCCs have the same appearance, these photos serve as general reference for what they can look like. If you develop a spot that raises suspicion, schedule an appointment with your dermatologist.
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?
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.
- More than 1 million cases of SCC are diagnosed each year, which translates to about 115 cases diagnosed every hour.
- SCC incidence has increased up to 200 percent in the past three decades.
Elizabeth K. Hale, MD
C. William Hanke, MD
Last reviewed: May 2019