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What increases my risk for squamous cell carcinoma?

Jenny C. Hu, MD
Dermatology
The risk factors for squamous cell carcinoma are similar to the risk factors for basal cell carcinoma. Basically, if you’ve had cumulative ultraviolet (UV) exposure over your lifetime, you will be at risk of squamous cell carcinoma. (For basal cell carcinoma, it is sometimes more intermittent sunburns that increase your risk.)

Fair skin increases your risk, as does being male and being over 50 years of age. Smoking increases your risk as well because it causes damage to certain biological functions of your skin that affect its ability to protect itself. If you smoke, you’re at high risk of getting skin cancer on your lips. If you had exposure to chemical carcinogens including arsenic in the past, that increases your risk.

In addition, immunosuppression through, for example, a solid organ transplant (like a liver transplant, a kidney transplant or a heart transplant) that requires you to take medications to suppress your immune system will put you at high risk for squamous cell carcinoma. If you have other kinds of diseases that require you to take medications to suppress your immune system -- sometimes even medications for arthritis -- this can also increase your risk. Long-term use of cortisone (like prednisone) will increase your risk because it suppresses your immune system (although short-term use doesn't affect your risk too much).

The most significant risk factor for squamous cell carcinoma seems to be excessive sun exposure, especially exposure to a lot of ultraviolet (UV) rays over an entire lifetime. Another risk factor is having fair skin, because it  doesn't have a lot of pigment to protect from the sun. Other medical conditions such as certain genetic disorders, chronic skin inflammation, or a weakened immune system may increase your risk for squamous cell carcinoma. Age and gender may also come into play because males and older people are much more commonly affected by the disease. Other risk factors may include smoking and a personal or family history of skin cancer.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.