Squamous cell skin cancer has a variable look. It can look differently in different people and in different locations. But there are some common features you can learn to recognize with a little practice. The images below will help you know what to look for in a skin self-examination.


Actinic Keratoses

Actinic keratoses (ak-TIN-ik ker-uh-TOE-sees) are precursors to squamous cell carcinoma, so it’s important to recognize them. These precancers, also known as solar keratoses, are caused by sun damage. As shown in the pictures below, they often look like small, dry, scaly, or crusty skin patches. Their colour varies from dark tan to white to flesh-coloured, or they are a combination of colours. They have a rough texture that you can feel.

Actinic keratoses on the forehead/scalp
Actinic keratoses on the ear

Three images of actinic keratoses.

Actinic keratoses on the hand

Squamous Cell Skin Cancer

The following are clinical images of squamous cell skin cancer, starting with early stages.

Bowen’s disease (in situ SCSC)

In the very early stages, squamous cell skin cancer can look like actinic keratosis. This is called Bowen’s disease, a very early squamous cell skin cancer that is only in the epidermis. It is also called squamous cell skin cancer in situ or Stage 0 squamous cell skin cancer.

SCSC as a rough patch

Squamous cell skin cancer can present as a rough-feeling reddish patch in the early stages.

Another example of how squamous cell skin cancer can present as a rough-feeling reddish patch in the early stages.

SCSC with ulceration

It can form on the lip, oftentimes on the lower lip because of sun exposure.

SCSC on the nose with ulceration and overlying crust

Sometimes it bleeds and forms an ulcer.

Other times it forms a scaly, crusty area.
Sometimes SCSC can be flat and brown and look like an age spot

Sometimes it just looks like an age spot, so you need to be careful and be sure to monitor all your spots.

SCSC forming a cutaneous horn

Rarely, it forms a little horn, like you would find on an animal (which is a bony core covered with keratin). These tumours can grow quickly and are a cause for concern.

Squamous cell skin cancer can form a raised, round growth, as is shown on this person’s nose.

As you can see, squamous cell skin cancer presents in many different ways. While the nine photographs here are good representations, squamous cell skin cancer could look differently on you. That’s why it’s important to see a dermatologist on a regular basis and to become familiar with all the spots on your body. This way, you can notice new spots that are suspicious or changes in existing ones as part of an early-detection strategy.

Watermarked images courtesy of DermNetNZ,org. For more information, see https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/nz/legalcode