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Skin cancer (squamous cell) - What is squamous cell skin cancer?

BMJ Group Medical Reference


Squamous cell skin cancer usually appears as a crusted lump on your skin that tends not to heal or go away. In most people, treatment cures this cancer.

We've brought together the best research about squamous cell skin cancer and weighed up the evidence about how to treat it. You can use our information to talk to your doctor and decide which treatments are best for you.

Squamous cell cancer is the second most common skin cancer in the UK. It tends to appear as a crusted lump on your skin that looks different from the skin around it. This lump might not heal. In most people, treatment cures this cancer.

Key points for people with squamous cell skin cancer

  • The main cause of squamous cell skin cancer is getting too much sun.

  • You're more likely to get this cancer if you have fair skin or burn easily.

  • This cancer doesn't usually spread to other parts of your body.

  • But it's more likely to spread if it shows up on your ears or lips.

  • Most people who have surgery to remove the cancer are cured.

  • If your cancer is caught when it's smaller, it's less likely to spread or come back after surgery.

  • You can protect yourself and your family by using sunscreen and staying out of the sun. To learn more, see Staying safe in the sun.

squamous-sunscreen_default.jpgYou're more likely to get squamous cell skin cancer if you get lots of sun. The effects of sun on your skin add up over your lifetime, so people who work outdoors and older people are more likely to get squamous cell skin cancer.

You may hear your doctor call this cancer squamous cell carcinoma or non-melanoma skin cancer.

Squamous cell skin cancer isn't the most serious type of skin cancer. The most serious type is called melanoma. (To learn more, see our information on Melanoma.) But squamous cell cancer can spread.

Here we talk about squamous cell skin cancer that hasn't spread.

Your skin

To understand how you get squamous cell skin cancer and how it's treated, it helps to know something about your skin and how it protects you from the sun.

Your skin does lots of important jobs. It protects your body from injuries and infections, and cools you down by making sweat when it's hot. It also has lots of nerves that give you your sense of touch.

squamous-skin-smaller_default.jpgYour skin has two layers.

  • An outer layer (called the epidermis) protects your body from injuries and infections. This layer is where the flat squamous cells sit. The innermost cells in this layer are called basal cells.

  • An inner layer (called the dermis) has blood vessels and glands, such as sweat glands. The nerves that give you your sense of touch sit in this layer.[8] The hair follicles in which your skin hair grows are also in the inner layer.

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Last Updated: June 21, 2012
This information does not replace medical advice.  If you are concerned you might have a medical problem please ask your Boots pharmacy team in your local Boots store, or see your doctor.
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