Squamous cell carcinoma: Who gets and causes

Squamous cell carcinoma: Who gets and causes

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This skin cancer is most common in fair-skinned people who have spent years in the sun. But people of all skin colors get squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). Your risk of developing SCC increases if you have any of the following risk factors: 

Your physical traits

  • Pale or light-colored skin.
  • Blue, green, or gray eyes.
  • Blond or red hair.
  • An inability to tan.

What you’ve done

  • Spent a lot of time outdoors, for work or leisure, without using sunscreen or covering up with clothing.
  • Used tanning beds or sunlamps.
  • Been exposed to cancer-causing chemicals (e.g., arsenic in drinking water, tar, worked with some insecticides or herbicides).
  • Smoked tobacco. 
  • Spent lots of time near heat, such as a fire.

Your medical history

  • Diagnosed with actinic keratoses (AKs).
  • Badly burned your skin.
  • Ulcer or sore on your skin that has been there for many months or years.
  • Taking medicine that suppresses your immune system.
  • Infected with human papillomavirus (HPV).
  • Overexposure or long-term exposure to x-rays, such as patients who received x-ray treatments for acne in the 1940s.
  • Received many PUVA treatments.
  • Have one of these medical conditions: xeroderma pigmentosum, epidermolysis bullous, or albinism.

Causes

Most SCC is caused by ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun or tanning beds. Other causes include:
  • Long-term exposure to cancer-causing chemicals, such as when a person smokes tobacco, is exposed to tar, drinks from a water supply that contains arsenic, or uses some insecticides or herbicides.
  • A serious burn.
  • Ulcer or sore on the skin that has been there for many months or years.
  • Some types of the human papillomavirus (HPV).

Learn more about squamous cell carcinoma:

References:

Grossman D, Leffell DJ. “Squamous cell carcinoma.” In: Wolff K et al. Fitzpatrick’s Dermatology in General Medicine, 7th edition. USA. McGraw Hill Medical; 2008, p. 1028-36.

Habif TP, Campbell JL, Chapman JGH et al. “Squamous cell carcinoma,” In: Dermatology DDxDeck. China; 2006.

Leibovitch I, Huilgol SC, Selva D et al. “Cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma treated with Mohs micrographic surgery in Australia I. Experience over 10 years.” J Am Acad Dermatol 2005;53:253-60.

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