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Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Risk Factors

Squamous cell carcinoma risk factors include:
  • Being exposed to a lot of natural or artificial sunlight
  • Having scars or burns on the skin
  • Being exposed to arsenic
  • Having chronic skin inflammation or skin ulcers
  • Being treated with radiation
  • Taking immunosuppressive drugs (for example, after an organ transplant)
  • Having actinic keratosis
  • Having a fair complexion (blond or red hair, fair skin, green or blue eyes, history of freckling).


Not all changes in the skin are a sign of squamous cell carcinoma, but a doctor should be consulted if changes in the skin are seen (see Signs of Skin Cancer).

Making a Diagnosis

Tests or procedures that examine the skin are used to detect and diagnose squamous cell carcinoma. These procedures include a skin examination and a biopsy.
Skin Examination
During a skin examination, a doctor or nurse will check the skin for bumps or spots that look abnormal in color, size, shape, or texture.
In a biopsy, all or part of the abnormal-looking growth is cut from the skin and viewed under a microscope by a pathologist to see if cancer cells are present. There are three types of skin biopsies, which include:
  • Shave biopsy: A sterile razor blade is used to shave off the abnormal-looking growth
  • Excisional biopsy: A scalpel is used to remove the entire growth
  • Punch biopsy: A special instrument called a punch or a trephine is used to remove a circle of tissue from the abnormal-looking growth.
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