How is Squamous Cell Carcinoma Diagnosed?


Various tests and procedures are used to diagnose squamous cell carcinoma, each beginning with a physical exam where your doctor will note the size, shape, color, and texture of the area or areas in question. Any bleeding, oozing, or crusting at the site will also be noted.

Additionally, your doctor may feel the nearby lymph nodes, as squamous cell carcinoma can spread to this area. At this point, if your primary doctor is treating you, you may be referred to a dermatologist. Your examination with a dermatologist will include a closer look at the affected area using specialized tools and digital photographs.

If, after this examination, your doctor feels the area in question might be cancerous, a skin biopsy will be performed. During a biopsy, part or all of the area is removed and sent to a lab to be examined for diagnosis.

NewYork-Presbyterian dermatologists are experts in skin screening for squamous cell carcinoma. Early diagnosis is essential for ensuring that you have the broadest range of treatment options with the lowest risk of complications.

How is Squamous Cell Carcinoma Treated?


Most skin squamous cell carcinomas can be removed and cured with minor surgery or other local treatments such as topical medicine. Treatment decisions for squamous cell carcinomas are made based on the tumor's size, location, and development.

Surgery for squamous cell carcinoma

Our surgeons perform the most cutting-edge treatment for squamous cell carcinoma where indicated. Mohs surgery allows tissue conservation by removing only the cancerous cells while having the highest cure rate of any other treatment modality for skin cancer removal. These tissue-sparing techniques allows for the best possible cosmetic outcome.

  • Curettage - Small superficial squamous cell cancers can be scraped off using a curette (which has a sharp, ring-shaped tip) using local anesthesia. Your doctor then "desiccates" the tumor site with an electrocautery needle. This technique is best reserved for body parts other than the head and neck.
  • Mohs micrographic surgery - Tumors in delicate areas like the face might require Mohs surgery, a technique our highly trained doctors perform to treat squamous cell carcinoma. During Mohs surgery, the tumor is removed layer by layer and microscopically examined each time during the procedure to ensure the elimination of cancer while preserving as much healthy skin as possible.

Nonsurgical treatments

For some people with small, superficial squamous cell cancers or those who cannot have surgery, we provide a variety of nonsurgical treatments.

  • Topical creams - Some squamous cell carcinomas may be treated with creams that you put on the lesion, such as imiquimod (which stimulates your immune system to fight cancer) and 5-fluorouracil (a type of chemotherapy in a form to be used on the skin). The cream is used daily for several weeks.
  • Cryosurgery - Your doctor may use cryosurgery—freezing the cancer cells with liquid nitrogen—to treat squamous cell carcinoma that has not invaded deeply into the skin
  • Photodynamic therapy - This approach treats some superficial squamous cell carcinomas and actinic keratosis (precancers). Your doctor applies a cream containing a chemical activated by an intense blue ultraviolet light. When they direct the light at cancer, the chemical selectively destroys squamous cell cancer cells while causing minimal damage to nearby healthy skin tissue.
  • Radiation therapy - Radiation is used to treat some large or oddly situated squamous cell carcinomas. Your doctor may use it after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells.



Squamous cell carcinoma is not considered a fast-growing cancer. It spreads slowly and does not easily spread to other areas of the body.

Squamous cell carcinoma is curable when caught early. A medical specialist will look at the stage and location of your cancer, its rate of growth, and your overall health before determining your prognosis.

Squamous cell carcinoma of the skin is usually not life-threatening. It can, however, be aggressive. Early detection and treatment are the best tools to fight squamous cell carcinoma. If left untreated, this condition can grow large and spread to other body parts. This causes serious complications and makes treating squamous cell carcinoma more difficult.

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Trust NewYork-Presbyterian for Squamous Cell Carcinoma Treatment

Our team of expert dermatologists, dermatopathologists, medical oncologists, and radiation oncologists provide advanced care for squamous cell carcinoma and other skin cancers.

Knowing what is normal for your skin is key. Should you experience any symptoms that are out of the ordinary, schedule an appointment with NewYork-Presbyterian today.

At NewYork-Presbyterian, squamous cell carcinoma is treated as part of a whole-patient protocol. Your team of doctors works together to address all your healthcare needs as your cancer is treated, targeting any side effects that may arise. With this approach, nutritionists, social workers, and palliative care experts are also part of your specialist team and are here to support you along the way.