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Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is a common type of keratinocyte cancer or non-melanoma skin cancer.
It is derived from cells within the epidermis that make keratin — the horny protein that makes up skin, hair and nails.

SCC can sometimes metastasise and may prove fatal.

What are the risk factors for SCC:

  • Sex and age are important. Although they affect all adults they are more prevalent in elderly men.
  • Previous SCC or another form of skin cancer is a strong predictor for further skin cancers.
  • Actinic keratoses
  • Smoking
  • Blonde or red hair, blue or green eyes, fair skin
  • Some Inherited syndromes such as xeroderma pigmentosum, albinism and epidermodysplasia verruciformis.
  • Organ transplant recipients also have an increased risk.
  • As do people exposed to ionising radiation, or arsenic
  • Immune system suppression due to cancer, other disease or medications.
  • SCCs are overwhelmingly linked to ultraviolet radiation (sunshine), with strong genetic underpinnings so sunscreen and sun protection is vital.

What are the symptoms of SCCs?

  • Scaly crusty enlarging lumps that grow over weeks or months
  • They may ulcerate
  • They may bleed
  • They are often painful
  • Frequently they are located on face, lips, ears, hands, forearms and legs which are exposed to the sun
  • Size varies from a few millimetres to several centimetres in diameter.

What is the treatment for SCCs?

Treatments for SCCs include:

  • Excisional surgery
  • Radiation therapy
  • Mohs Surgery
  • Topical Medications
  • Cemiplimab which in Australia is only used in a provisional capacity for advanced and metastatic SCCs.

What is the outlook for SCCs?

  • Most SCCs can be cured by treatment
  • However, the risk of recurrence or disease-associated death is greater for tumours that are more than 20mm in diameter and or 2mm in thickness at surgical excision.*
  • About 50% of people at high risk of SCC develop a second one within 5 years of the first.
  • They are also at increased risk of other skin cancers, especially melanoma.
  • Regular self-skin examinations and long-term annual skin checks by an experienced health professional are vital.
  • Also ask your hairdresser/loved one to check your scalp with hair dryer on cool.

Find out in detail about our skin cancer treatments for BCCs, SCCs and melanoma here.