What is Invasive Squamous Cell Carcinoma?

Christina Whyte

Invasive squamous cell carcinoma is a type of cancer that occurs in the flat cells that make up the outer layer of skin and the linings of some organs, known as squamous cells. In this case, the word invasive means that the cancerous tumor has penetrated deeply into the skin or organ, as opposed to remaining a surface lesion. For example, in cases of invasive squamous cell carcinoma of the skin, the tumor may have penetrated into the dermis through the epidermis. Depending on the location, size, and severity of the tumor, there are several different courses of treatment that may be pursued.

Indoor tanning may cause squamous cell carcinoma.
Indoor tanning may cause squamous cell carcinoma.

Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common type of skin cancer after basal cell carcinoma. Most often it is caused by exposure to UV rays, either through natural sunlight or by indoor tanning. People with fair skin are particularly susceptible. It can also occur in organs as diverse as the prostate, bladder, and larynx, although these are nowhere near as common as squamous cell skin cancer. Exposure to radiation or chemical carcinogens, as well as some inflammatory or scarring disorders, can also increase the risk of squamous cell cancer.

Treatment for invasive squamous cell carcinoma includes surgery.
Treatment for invasive squamous cell carcinoma includes surgery.

Invasive squamous cell carcinoma can be serious because of the risk of cancer metastasis, which means the cancer spreads to other areas of the body or additional organ systems. This risk of metastasis is higher with invasive lesions than it is with shallow lesions. Risk increases if the tumor is large, very deep, or if it is close to other systems such as the lymph nodes or nerves. Some patient characteristics can also influence this risk, such as poor immune system functioning.

Sun exposure can cause squamous cell carcinoma.
Sun exposure can cause squamous cell carcinoma.

Most of the time, this condition is treated by surgically removing the tumor, which is usually curative. A specialized surgical technique precisely determines the boundaries of a tumor, called Mohs micrographic surgery, may be used for irregularly shaped or potentially disfiguring lesions. If a tumor is considered high risk because of its location, depth, size, or tumor features, radiation therapy may be needed to make sure that all of the cancer is removed or destroyed. Chemotherapy may be needed if the cancer has metastasized, but this treatment is unlikely if the tumor has spread.

Patients who have had one invasive squamous cell carcinoma are at a higher risk of developing others. It is important to closely monitor any changes in the skin, and to avoid unprotected sun exposure. Regular visits to a dermatologist for a full skin check will also help to ensure that any future tumors can be caught quickly, which will make treatment easier and more likely to be successful.

Invasive squamous cell carcinoma can occur in the prostate.
Invasive squamous cell carcinoma can occur in the prostate.

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Discussion Comments


A girl I went to high school with was diagnosed a couple of years ago with invasive squamous cell carcinoma. It started in a place on her back. She had surgery and has not had a recurrence, thank goodness. Her husband spotted a dark spot and thought it looked suspicious. Thank goodness he was paying attention!

A good rule is to have someone look at the back of your body for you, since you can't always see it. With every phone having a camera, also take picture of the spot for comparison's sake.

Turns out, her dermatologist said the spot was almost certainly caused by too much sun. She was a sun worshiper in high school.


With all the evidence of how prolonged sun exposure can cause skin cancer, I am continually at a loss to understand why anyone feels it necessary to look like a piece of baked chicken!

I am very fair skinned, and I've been sunburned a couple of times. If I know I'm going to be outside for any period of time, I wear a cap, put sunscreen on my face, neck and even my ears, along with on the usual spots of the arms and legs. I don't want to risk it.

An additional benefit of staying out of the sun is that I truly look 10 or 15 years younger than most women my age. I am 45, and it is not uncommon for people to place me at 30 or 35.

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