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SCC (non-melanoma skin cancer)

Written by Healthwords's team of doctors and pharmacists based in UK | Updated: 26.01.2023 | 3 min read

An SCC (squamous cell carcinoma) 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 aged 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 actually the less 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.

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.

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 dermatoscope - 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 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.

Related topics

Read about: Sunburn

Read about: When to worry about a mole?

Read about: Moles

Read about: Melanoma (skin cancer)

Read more about: Cancer

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