How serious is squamous cell skin carcinoma?

Written by: Dr Raj Mallipeddi
Edited by: Laura Burgess

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) often presents itself as a hard, scaly lump and sometimes can even appear like a wart on the skin. Other features may include ulceration. Often there are no other symptoms, but signs of squamous cell carcinoma may include bleeding and itching. If you press the area of involved skin, the lump may feel tender.


What areas of the body is squamous cell carcinoma most likely to appear?

Squamous cell carcinoma (a type of skin cancer) can potentially appear anywhere on the body but is most likely to occur on sites that have had the most sun exposure. When a person spends a lot of time exposed outdoors, the most common areas to attract ultraviolet rays are the head and scalp. The back of the hand is an area susceptible to develop SCC because it too is often unprotected.

Who is most likely to develop squamous cell carcinoma?

Individuals most likely to develop squamous cell carcinoma are those who are more susceptible to sunburn. There are also some people who are immunosuppressed (who have a reduced immune system) because of certain medications that they are taking, perhaps to manage conditions such as leukaemia or HIV. Some immunosuppressed individuals may have had a kidney or heart transplant and are on drugs that supress the immune system. From a population perspective, the amount of people who are on this type of medication is very low.

When should you see a doctor?

Any new lump or spot which may exhibit any of the characteristics mentioned (a hard, scaly lump) that is rapidly growing should be checked by a specialist. It can be difficult to know when to visit a doctor but these sorts of lesions when evident on the skin should be examined.

What is the outlook for squamous cell carcinoma and can it be treated successfully?

The outlook for squamous cell carcinoma depends on the stages of development and how early it is caught. In principle, capturing SCC early and having it cut out with surgery is, in most cases, sufficient.

Successful treatment depends on how early you catch squamous cell carcinoma. The majority are low risk and can be cured. A small number spread as metastases to lymph nodes or other parts of the body.

By Dr Raj Mallipeddi

Dr Raj Mallipeddi is a leading London dermatologist, dedicated to the latest treatments in skin cancer, Mohs micrographic surgery, mole removal, laser surgery and cosmetic dermatology. He is Consultant Dermatologist and Dermatological Surgeon at St John's, the Clinical Lead for skin cancer at St John's Institute of Dermatology, as well as Lead Clinician at the Laser Unit at St John's. 

He lectures nationally and internationally, is widely published, and a pioneer in his field for being one of the only UK doctors who has completed advanced training in Mohs micrographic surgery as certified by the American College of Mohs Surgery. He serves on numerous boards including chair of the UK Mohs micrographic service standards committee and is immediate past President of the British Society for Dermatological Surgery.

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