Prevention & Risk Factors for Squamous Cell Carcinoma

The best way to prevent squamous cell skin cancer is to consistently shield your skin from sunlight — every day.

  • apply broad-spectrum sunscreen with a minimum of 30 sun protection factor (SPF)
  • reapply sunscreen every two hours if you’re sweating or swimming
  • stay in the shade
  • wear protective hats and clothing
Bring any suspected skin cancer to the attention of a physician or dermatologist right away.

Exposure to Ultraviolet (UV) Radiation from the Sun

The single most common cause of squamous cell carcinoma is overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from sunlight. People who work outdoors, spend a lot of time at the beach, or regularly participate in outdoor activities have a greater risk of developing skin cancer.

There are two kinds of UV radiation: UVA and UVB.

  • UVA is the main tanning ray; it’s used in sun lamps and tanning beds. It can also cause skin damage and skin cancer. UVA rays can travel through glass and clouds.
  • UVB radiation causes sunburn and is responsible for most skin cancers, including squamous cell carcinoma. The risk is particularly high if you’ve had sunburns and blistering.

Sun-Damaged Skin and Actinic Keratosis

Squamous cell carcinoma can start as a precancerous lesion called actinic keratosis, or solar keratosis. These lesions, which are caused by exposure to the sun, commonly appear as rough, flat, pink spots on the skin. Most don’t become cancerous and eventually drop away.

Actinic keratosis that has turned from a precancerous condition into squamous cell carcinoma is raised above the normal surface of the skin and is firm to the touch.

Fair Skin

People with blond or red hair and blue or light-colored eyes are more likely to develop this cancer because they have less of the skin pigment (color) called melanin to provide natural protection. Having dark skin only provides a certain level of defense, however. Darker-skinned individuals with more natural melanin can still develop squamous cell carcinoma and other skin cancers.

Other Risk Factors for Squamous Cell Skin Cancer:

  • previous diagnosis of skin cancer (of any type)
  • a family history of skin cancer
  • older age
  • congenital nevi (moles present at birth)
  • dysplastic nevi (atypical moles)
  • repeated exposure to radiation
  • exposure to coal tar, arsenic, or other industrial compounds
  • a weakened immune system
  • human papilloma virus (HPV) infection
  • tobacco use
  • leukoplakia or Bowen’s disease diagnosis