Symptoms and Diagnosis

Squamous cell cancer affects the thin, flat cells in skin’s surface. These cells are also found in the lining of the respiratory and digestive tracts and some organs.


Squamous cell cancer can occur anywhere on your skin, but usually appears on the face, ears, neck, hands or arms. It can be larger than one inch, and it usually grows slowly but can spread faster than basal cell cancer.

It might look like a growing bump, or a rough scaly spot with flat, red patches. It may just look like a sore that doesn't heal. Any time a wart or lesion changes in appearance, it could be a sign of cancer, even if you have had the wart or lesion for a long time. See your doctor any time you have a sore or spot on your skin that changes in:

  • Appearance
  • Color
  • Size
  • Texture

Also see your doctor if a spot becomes painful or swollen or if it starts to bleed or itch.


To confirm cancer, you will need a biopsy. Your doctor will remove all or part of the spot and send it to a lab to check for cancer cells. If you have cancer, you may need more tests to see how deep it is and whether it has spread.

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Cancer Caused by an Uncontrolled Growth of Abnormal Squamous Cells

Squamous cell cancer affects the thin, flat cells in skin’s surface. These cells are also found in the lining of the respiratory and digestive tracts and some organs. Squamous cell cancer is the second most common skin cancer. It is more likely to spread than basal cell skin cancer but is usually easily treated.


Treatment depends on the size, depth and location of the tumor, and your overall health. Treatment options may include:

  • Surgery: A surgeon simply cuts out the cancer and stitches your skin back together. 
  • Chemotherapy: If the cancer has spread or cannot be treated with surgery, you may need treatment with special medicine to stop or slow the cancer’s growth.
  • Cryosurgery: A doctor uses a special probe to kill cancer cells by freezing them. This method is used mainly for small tumors that are not deep.
  • Curettage and electrodessication: A specially trained doctor scrapes away cancer cells, and then use small bursts of electricity to kill any cancer cells that remain. 
  • Mohs surgery: A specially trained doctor will remove a layer of skin and look at it right away under a microscope. Then the doctor will keep removing layers of skin until there are no signs of the cancer. This method is often used for cancers on the face.
  • Topical medicine: A cancer that is not large or deep may be treated with medicated skin cream.
  • Photodynamic therapy: The tumor is treated with a drug that makes the cancer cells sensitive to light. Then a doctor shines a special kind of light onto the tumor to destroy the cancer cells. This method is used to treat cancers that are not large or deep.
  • Radiation therapy: This method uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells and shrink the tumor. It may be used if squamous cell cancer has spread to organs or lymph nodes or it cannot be treated with surgery.

Most of these cancers are cured when treated early, but some may return and need further treatment.

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