What does squamous cell carcinoma look like?

Jenny C. Hu, MD
Like basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma is usually present in sun-exposed areas of the skin, can appear quickly, bleed, be sore and may not heal. Unlike basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma looks more like a red, crusted lesion. Sometimes the spot can have an ulcer (sore) in the middle that doesn’t heal. It can appear anywhere on the body. Sometimes people think it's ringworm.

Squamous cell carcinoma can be very subtle if on the lips, and you might not really notice it. The spot can be pretty small and keeps getting rough and scaly but doesn’t heal.
Dr. Ellen Marmur, MD

Precancerous lesions for squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) are called "actinic keratoses" (AKs). They look like a red or brown patch of sun damage. A suspicious area tends to be crusty and dry, and it may bleed. Though these lesions may not become cancerous, they have a good chance of being precursors of SCC. If treated early, however, AKs can be eliminated before becoming skin cancer.

Simple Skin Beauty: Every Woman's Guide to a Lifetime of Healthy, Gorgeous Skin

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Simple Skin Beauty: Every Woman's Guide to a Lifetime of Healthy, Gorgeous Skin

What if a leading dermatologist just happened to be your best friend and you could ask her anything? DR. ELLEN MARMUR, a world-renowned New York City dermatologist, answers all your questions with...

Continue Learning about Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

A highly curable skin cancer, squamous cell carcinoma (pronounced SKWAY-mus sel KAR-sih-NOH-muh) affects the cells that form your skin's outer layer. If you have fair skin, like tanning beds or sunburn easily, you're at risk for d...

eveloping this common cancer.Also called epidermoid carcinoma, this non-melanoma skin cancer may develop from the skin condition actinic keratosis (pronounced ak-TIH-nik KAYR-uh-TOH-sis), which gives your skin thick, scaly patches. If left untreated, squamous cell carcinoma can develop into large tumors and spread to nearby lymph nodes, a direct link to your immune system. However, when caught early, it is very rare for squamous cell carcinoma and its sister skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma, to spread. See your doctor immediately if you notice wounds that do not heal or changes in your skin, especially moles.

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.