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SCC (non-melanoma skin cancer)

Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 4 minutes read
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A squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is usually a firm pink or red lump and typically occurs in sun-exposed areas like the face, ears, forearms and hands, shoulder, upper chest, and back. It might feel tender to press, it may develop a solid horny lump sticking up, and it can sometimes ulcerate, giving a wet appearance. This grows slowly over weeks, months, or even years.

It usually occurs in people over 50, in response to years of sun damage. While skin cancers all develop in response to sun damage, and similar risk factors make some more susceptible than others, there are different types of skin cancer. Melanoma is the most well-known but the least common. This is where a new mole appears or an existing mole changes. SCC is a different process and doesn't usually start as a mole.

Doctor’s advice

Is there a risk?

It is important to book an urgent appointment with your doctor, as this type of skin cancer starts in the uppermost layers of the skin and can cause disruption of tissues if it invades. There is a risk of it spreading around the body if left untreated.

Reducing the risk

Sun protection

Use broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. Apply sunscreen to exposed skin, including face, neck, and hands. Reapply sunscreen every two hours, or more frequently if swimming or sweating. Seek shade, especially during peak sunlight hours (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.).

Protective clothing

Wear long-sleeved shirts, pants, and wide-brimmed hats to shield the skin from UV rays. Choose clothing with a tight weave for better sun protection.

Avoid tanning beds

Refrain from using tanning beds, as they emit harmful UV radiation and increase the risk of skin cancer.

Regular skin examinations

Perform regular self-examinations to monitor any changes in moles, freckles, or the appearance of new lesions. Seek professional dermatological examinations for a thorough skin check at least annually.

Limit sun exposure for children

Protect children from excessive sun exposure, as early sun damage contributes to skin cancer risk later in life. Encourage sun-safe habits, such as wearing hats and applying sunscreen.

Quit smoking

If applicable, quit smoking, as tobacco use increases the risk of developing certain types of skin cancer, including squamous cell carcinoma (SCC).

Environmental awareness

Be cautious of occupational and recreational exposure to carcinogens, such as certain chemicals and substances, and take appropriate protective measures.

Regular checkups

Attend regular checkups with your doctor, for skin cancer screenings and early detection. Especially if you have moles, or freckles or a history of skin cancer.

Maintain overall health

Adopt a healthy lifestyle with a well-balanced diet, regular exercise, and proper hydration, as overall health may contribute to skin cancer prevention.

When should I see my doctor?:

Book an urgent appointment with your doctor if you have a lump or ulcer that has not healed after four weeks. Your doctor will ask about your individual risk factors and past medical history and examine the skin bump. They may have a dermatoscopy - a special light and microscope - to take a closer look.

If they suspect an SCC, you will be referred urgently to a dermatologist for an expert opinion. An SCC will be removed surgically, and the tissue will be examined to ensure it is fully removed and poses no further risk.

This indicates that you have had substantial damage to your skin cells from the sun, so you should check your skin regularly for any future SCC or other concerning moles or lumps and bumps, as you will be at risk of other types of skin cancer.

How do I know if I have sun damage already?

Any sunburn is a warning shot that you’ve had too much sun. While wrinkles are a natural consequence of ageing, this process is sped up by sun damage, and wrinkles may look deep-set, especially around the lips, eyes, smile lines near the mouth and the forehead. You may brown spots, known as age spots or liver spots, or hyperpigmentation, over sun-exposed areas.

If you notice pink or brown flaky spots in sun-exposed sites, these may be actinic keratoses. It’s worth getting these checked and relevant treatment started, as they carry a small risk in years to come of becoming an SCC. They are known as pre-cancerous lesions.

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This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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