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Skin cancer (squamous cell) - What will happen to me?

BMJ Group Medical Reference

No one can say for certain what will happen to you if you have squamous cell skin cancer. What happens depends on many things.[26]

What we do know is that most people are cured completely after surgery. But, in about 1 in 100 or 2 in 100 people, the cancer spreads to other parts of their body.[16][29] If this happens, the cancer is harder to cure.

Doctors usually use a system called the TNM system to say how advanced your cancer is. To find out more, see What stage is my skin cancer?

We also know that certain squamous cell skin cancers are more serious than others.[16]

  • As with all cancers, the earlier your skin cancer is diagnosed and treated, the better your chance of a cure.

  • If your cancer is larger, it will be harder to treat. A tumour that is more than about 2 centimetres (7/8 of an inch) across is three times more likely to spread to other parts of your body.

  • If your tumour is thicker (that is, it goes deeper into your skin), it's more likely to spread. In one study, no tumours spread if they were 2 millimetres (just over 1/16 of an inch) or less in thickness. Around 4 in 100 tumours spread if they were between 2 millimetres and 6 millimetres (between about 1/16 of an inch and 1/4 of an inch) in thickness. And 16 in 100 tumours spread if they were more than 6 millimetres (around 1/4 inch) thick.

  • If your cancer is on your lip or ear, it's more likely to spread than if it's on another part of your body.

  • If your cancer appears on injured or scarred skin, it's more likely to spread than if it appears on healthy skin.

Studies in the US show that if you're black, squamous cell skin cancer may be more serious. In black people it is often diagnosed later, making it harder to treat.[17] We don't know whether this is also the case in the UK.


For references related to Skin cancer (squamous cell) click here.
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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