Skin Cancer Home > Squamous Cell Carcinoma

One of the most common types of skin cancer, squamous cell carcinoma is a disease with an extremely low fatality rate. Despite the low fatality rate, treatment is necessary; otherwise, it can destroy nearby tissue. Even when cured, people with this type of skin cancer have a higher risk of developing other skin cancers. The best way to prevent squamous cell carcinoma is to avoid sources of UV radiation.

What Is Squamous Cell Carcinoma?

There are several types of skin cancer. The most common are basal cell carcinoma followed by squamous cell carcinoma. These forms of skin cancer are often referred to as nonmelanoma skin cancer to differentiate them from a third type of skin cancer called melanoma. Melanoma is less common, more deadly, and more likely to spread throughout the body.
Squamous cell carcinoma rarely spreads, but is more likely to do so than basal cell carcinoma. Despite a fatality rate of less than 1 percent, these cancers should be treated promptly because they can invade and destroy nearby tissue. Although most squamous cell carcinomas can be cured, people with these types of skin cancer have a higher risk for developing other skin cancers.

Understanding the Skin

The skin is the body's largest organ. The skin:
  • Protects against heat, sunlight, injury, and infection
  • Helps control body temperature
  • Stores water, fat, and vitamin D.
The skin has several layers, but the two main layers are the epidermis (the upper or outer layer) and the dermis (the lower or inner layer).
Skin cancer begins in the epidermis, which is made up of three kinds of cells, including:
  • Squamous cells: Thin, flat cells that form the top layer of the epidermis.
  • Basal cells: Round cells under the squamous cells.
  • Melanocytes: Found in the lower part of the epidermis, these cells make melanin, the pigment that gives skin its natural color. When skin is exposed to the sun, melanocytes make more pigment, causing the skin to tan, or darken.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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