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Skin cancer types: Squamous cell carcinoma self-care

Seek shade when outdoors

Protecting your skin from the sun can greatly reduce your risk of getting another skin cancer.

Smiling couple wearing wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses

Once you’ve had squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) of the skin, you have the following risks:

  • The cancer can return.

  • Another squamous cell carcinoma of the skin can develop.

  • Another type of skin cancer, including melanoma (the most serious skin cancer), can appear.

You’ll have these increased risks for the rest of your life. To help patients reduce these risks and find skin cancer early, dermatologists recommend the following to their patients who have had squamous cell carcinoma:

  1. Keep all your dermatology appointments. Your dermatologist will tell you how often to return. During these appointments, your dermatologist will examine your skin and lymph nodes for signs of cancer.

    Keeping these appointments helps to find skin cancer early when it’s highly treatable.

  2. Learn to examine your skin and lymph nodes for signs of cancer and do these exams as often as your dermatologist recommends. These exams can be lifesaving.

    If you find any sign of cancer during your exam, call your dermatologist’s office, and tell them that you’ve been treated for squamous cell carcinoma.

    If you’re unsure how to perform a skin self-exam, the following can help:

    • Skin self-exam: How to do (video) - Video shows how a partner can help you examine your skin
    • Body mole map - Diagram gives you a place to draw the moles and other spots on your skin so that you can spot early changes

  3. Protect your skin from the sun. Protecting your skin from the sun prevents further damage and may allow your body to repair some of the existing damage, which can reduce your risk of getting another skin cancer. Avoiding the sun after treatment for skin cancer will also help your skin to heal and reduce scarring. For these reasons, dermatologists recommend that you protect your skin from the sun every day, even in winter and on cloudy days.

    Here’s how you can protect your skin:

    • Avoid the sun whenever possible. When you’re outdoors during the day, seek shade.
    • Protect your skin by wearing sunscreen every single day. Even when it’s cloudy, raining, or snowing outside, wear sunscreen that offers broad-spectrum protection, SPF 30 or higher, and water resistance. You should apply this sunscreen every day, even if you’re only spending a few minutes outdoors.
    • Wear clothing that protects your skin from the sun every day. Before going outdoors during the day, you want to put on a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses. Whenever possible, wear a long-sleeve shirt, pants, shoes, and socks.

  4. Never use a tanning bed or other type of indoor tanning. Indoor tanning is not safer than the sun. In fact, the ultraviolet (UV) radiation from tanning beds and other indoor-tanning equipment tends to be stronger than the UV radiation from the sun. Science had shown that this UV radiation is a carcinogen, meaning it can cause cancer.

    The evidence that indoor tanning dramatically increases your risk of getting skin cancer is so strong that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires warning labels on all indoor tanning equipment.

Organ-transplant recipients may need medication to help reduce their risk

If you have received an organ, the medication you take to prevent your body from rejecting the organ greatly increases your risk of developing skin cancer. Some patients develop many skin cancers.

If you have already developed many skin cancers, your dermatologist may recommend a medication called acitretin. It can help reduce the number of skin cancers you get.

Vitamins and other supplements not effective for reducing skin cancer

You may have heard that taking vitamin A, selenium, or another supplement can reduce the risk of developing another skin cancer. Researchers have found that these supplements do not reduce the number of skin cancers that people develop.

Some patients develop side effects from taking these supplements. Taken in large doses, vitamin A can cause your skin to turn yellow. Selenium can cause an upset stomach.

The best defense against another skin cancer continues to be sun protection and never using tanning beds.

Learning the signs and symptoms of other skin cancers can help you find them early.

You’ll find more information about the different types of skin cancer, including the signs and symptoms of each by going to the Skin Cancer Resource Center.

Getty Images

Alam M, Armstrong A, et al. “Guidelines of care for the management of cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma.” J Am Acad Dermatol 2018;78:560-78.

Anadolu-Brasie R, Patel AR, et al., “Squamous cell carcinoma of the skin.” In: Nouri K, et al. Skin Cancer. McGraw Hill Medical, China, 2008: 86-114.

Written by:
Paula Ludmann, MS

Reviewed by:
Elan M. Newman, MD, FAAD
Rajiv Nijhawan, MD, FAAD
Brittany Oliver, MD, FAAD

Last updated: 4/28/23