Squamous Cell Carcinoma:  What it Looks Like

Squamous cell carcinoma accounts for approximately 16% of all new skin cancer cases in the United States.

Where Occurs
It is most commonly found on sun-exposed areas of the body, such as the face, ears, neck, arms, scalp, and hands. However, it may occur anywhere ó even inside of the mouth, on a lip, or on genitals.

Warning Signs
Signs of squamous cell carcinoma include:

  • Crusted or scaly area on the skin with a red, inflamed base

  • Persistent, non-healing, ulcerated (skin not covering) bump or thickened skin on the lower lip

  • Wart-like growth or plaque

  • Sore that does not heal

  • Red, scaly patches or bumps

The tumors can reach ĺ to 1 inch in size and develop into large masses. Since squamous cell carcinoma has the potential to metastasize (spread), this form of skin cancer can be lethal if not treated. In aggressive cases, the tumor can spread to the lymph nodes or internal organs. This is especially true when a tumor begins on a lip or ear, or the patient has a weakened immune system. Conditions that weaken the immune system include an organ transplant, lymphoma, and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

Diagnosed Cases of Squamous Cell Carcinoma

This tumor developed rapidly over a six-month period on the patientís scalp.



This tumor appeared as a persistent, non-healing lesion on the patientís lower lip.

This diagnosed case appeared on the face of an elderly man who had many years of sun exposure.

The patient said that this lesion, which appears as a well-defined plaque, had been slowly growing
for years.


Advanced squamous cell carcinoma on the hands and forearms of an elderly patient.


(Photos used with permission of the American Academy of Dermatology
National Library of Dermatologic Teaching Slides)

Contact a Dermatologist
Like basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma can take many forms. If you spot a lesion that resembles any of the warning signs described above, see a dermatologist immediately. With early treatment by a dermatologist, the cure rate for squamous cell carcinoma is 95%. Left untreated, squamous cell carcinoma can destroy much of the tissue surrounding the tumor, resulting in loss of a lip, nose, or ear. In some cases, it can spread to lymph nodes and other organs. Once it spreads, squamous cell carcinoma can be deadly.

Squamous cell carcinoma can progress from actinic keratoses, lesions caused by years of exposure to the sun. If you spot scaling pink plaques, inflamed plaques, or hard fibrous horn-like growths on your skin, it could be actinic keratoses. It is important to have actinic keratoses treated by a dermatologist.

For more information about actinic keratoses, see ActinicKeratosesNet.

An educational program brought to you by the American Academy of Dermatology.

Left untreated, squamous cell carcinoma may develop into large masses and can spread to the bodyís other organs.

American Academy of Dermatology





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