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Skin cancer types: Squamous cell carcinoma symptoms

What are the signs and symptoms of squamous cell carcinoma?

On the skin, squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) can show up in many ways. You may see one of the following on your skin:

  • Rough, reddish scaly patch

  • Open sore (often with a raised border)

  • Brown spot that looks like an age spot

  • Firm, dome-shaped growth

  • Wart-like growth

  • Tiny, rhinoceros-shaped horn growing from your skin

  • Sore developing in an old scar

No matter what it looks like, SCC often appears on skin that’s gotten lots of sun, such as the face, lips, bald scalp, ears, or hands. It tends to develop on skin that’s been badly damaged by the sun or indoor tanning. Signs that your skin has been damaged, include age spots, discolored skin, loss of firmness, and deep wrinkles.

Pictures of squamous cell carcinoma on the skin

The following pictures show many of the ways that SCC can appear on the skin.

Rough-feeling, reddish patch

This is an early sign of squamous cell carcinoma.

Close-up of a squamous cell carcinoma of the skin

Round growth with raised borders

This squamous cell carcinoma developed from a pre-cancerous growth called an actinic keratosis.

A round growth with raised borders on the bottom of this patient's foot is squamous cell carcinoma

A sore that won't heal or heals and returns

On the skin or lips, squamous cell carcinoma can look like a sore.

A recurring sore on this patient's lip is squamous cell carcinoma skin cancer

Age spot

This can be a sign of squamous cell carcinoma, which is why you want a board-certified dermatologist to examine your skin before you treat any age spot.

An age spot on the side of a man's face could be squamous cell carcinoma

Raised, round growth

This is a common sign of squamous cell carcinoma of the skin.

A raised, round growth on this patient's nose is squamous cell carcinoma

Animal's horn

When squamous cell carcinoma looks like this, it tends to grow quickly.

What looks like an animal's horn on this patient's face is actually squamous cell carcinoma skin cancer

Because this common skin cancer can begin on any part of the body that has squamous cells, it can also develop inside the mouth, on the genitals, inside the anus, or in the tissue beneath a fingernail or toenail.

In these areas, this skin cancer may look like a:

  • Sore or rough patch (inside your mouth)

  • Raised, reddish patch (genitals, anus)

  • Wart-like sore (nail, genitals, anus)

  • Brown or black line beneath a nail

Sore inside your mouth

This squamous cell carcinoma started inside the mouth and grew to cover a larger area.

Close-up of a sore inside a patient's mouth which grew to become squamous cell carcinoma

Dark streak beneath a nail

Squamous cell carcinoma can look like a brown or black line beneath a nail, as shown here.

When it develops around the nail, it can look like a wart that just won’t go away. If you’ve had a wart around a fingernail (or toenail) for years, it’s time for a dermatologist to examine it.

A brown or black line beneath a nail could be a symptom of skin cancer

Disappearing nail

A nail can disappear for many reasons, including an HPV infection, which can cause squamous cell carcinoma.

A patient with a disappearing nail on their fourth (ring) finger could be a symptom of squamous cell carcinoma

What color is squamous cell carcinoma skin cancer?

This skin cancer tends to be one color, but the color can vary from one SCC to the next. This cancer may be:

  • Red or pink (most common)

  • Brown, black, or show flecks of these colors

  • Yellowish

  • White

If the spot is covered with scale, you may see white on top and red or pink beneath.

Does squamous cell carcinoma skin cancer hurt?

Some people notice only a change to their skin, such as a sore that won’t heal or heals and returns.

This skin cancer can also cause symptoms, such as:

  • Itching

  • Feeling sore or tender where you have the SCC

  • Numbness or a pins-and-needles sensation

Any sore, wart, or growth that isn’t healing or heals and returns should be examined by a board-certified dermatologist.

How do people find squamous cell carcinoma cancer on their skin?

Many people find it when they notice a spot, round lump, or scaly patch on their skin that is growing or feels different from the rest of their skin. If you notice such a spot on your skin that is growing, bleeding, or changing in any way, see a board-certified dermatologist. These doctors have the most training and experience in diagnosing skin cancer.

To find skin cancer early, dermatologists recommend that everyone check their own skin with a skin self-exam. This is especially important for people who have a higher risk of developing SCC.

You’ll find out what can increase your risk of getting this skin cancer at, Squamous cell carcinoma of the skin: Who gets and causes.

Used with permission of:

  • Images 1,2,4,7,9: The American Academy of Dermatology National Library of Dermatologic Teaching Slides

  • Image 3: JAAD Case Reports 2018;4:455-7.

  • Images 5,6: DermNet NZ

  • Image 8: J Am Acad Dermatol 2013;69:253-61.

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.

Riddel C, Rashid R, Thomas V. “Ungual and periungual human papillomavirus associated squamous cell carcinoma: A review.” J Am Acad Dermatol 2011;64:1147-53.

Que SKT, Zwald F, et al. “Cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma Incidence, risk factors, diagnosis, and staging.” J Am Acad Dermatol 2018;78:237-47.