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Squamous Cell Carcinoma

What is squamous cell carcinoma?

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) of the lung, also known as epidermoid carcinoma, is a form of lung cancer. There are two types of lung cancer: small lung cell cancer (SCLC) and non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Squamous cell carcinoma is a type of non-small cell carcinoma. It’s the most common form of lung cancer in men, and it’s more common in men than in women. It’s usually caused by smoking tobacco. 

Squamous cell carcinoma is named after squamous cells, which are types of cells that are flat and thin and look like fish scales. They’re found in many different parts of your body. A squamous cell carcinoma can happen anywhere you have squamous cells.

Experts recognize four types of squamous cell carcinomas of the lung:

  • Papillary
  • Small cell
  • Clear cell
  • Basaloid

There is some evidence that basaloid and certain small-cell types may have a worse prognosis than other types of squamous cell carcinoma. 

How is squamous cell carcinoma different from other lung carcinomas? 

Squamous cell carcinoma usually begins in the bronchi (the passages that bring air into the lung) and grows more slowly than other main forms of lung cancer, which include adenocarcinoma and small cell lung cancer. 

  • Adenocarcinoma begins along the outer edges of the lungs and under the lining of the bronchi in secretory (glandular) cells. It is the most common type of lung cancer in people who have never smoked. 
  • Small-cell lung cancer grows rapidly and quickly spreads to other organs. 

Risk factors of squamous cell carcinoma

Squamous cell carcinoma of the lung is closely correlated with a history of tobacco smoking. It’s more closely associated with tobacco smoking than other forms of lung cancer. 

Other risk factors for lung cancer include:

  • Exposure to second hand smoke
  • Smoking marijuana
  • Recurring lung inflammation from conditions like pneumonia or tuberculosis
  • Exposure to certain chemicals like asbestos, talcum powder, gasoline, or arsenic
  • Radon (a naturally occurring gas that you can’t see, taste, or smell) 
  • Air pollution

What are the symptoms of squamous cell carcinoma?

Symptoms of squamous cell carcinoma are similar to symptoms of other forms of lung cancer. Lung cancer does not usually cause symptoms at first. Symptoms usually begin after cancer has spread.

Symptoms may vary from person to person. The most common symptoms of lung cancer include:

  • Chest pain that doesn’t go away
  • Shortness of breath and wheezing
  • Recurring lung infections like pneumonia or bronchitis
  • Bloody or rust colored sputum (coughed up mucus)
  • Hoarseness of the throat
  • Swelling of the neck and face 
  • Pain and weakness in the shoulder, arm, or hand 
  • Unexplained fever

Squamous cell carcinoma of the lung can also cause symptoms common to other cancers in general, such as:

  • Fatigue (extreme tiredness)
  • Not feeling hungry
  • Weight loss
  • Headache
  • Pain throughout the body
  • Broken or fractured bones

Having any of these signs or symptoms does not necessarily mean you have lung cancer. Only a doctor can tell for sure. 

How do doctors diagnose squamous cell carcinoma?

Doctors may diagnose squamous cell carcinoma and other types of lung cancer in several ways. The tests doctors choose to give you will depend on your risk factors, symptoms, and age.

Diagnostic tests

If your doctor thinks you could have any type of lung cancer, he or she may order different tests to help diagnose cancer or to rule out other conditions. These tests may include:

  • X-rays of your lungs, which could show a tumor
  • CT scans, which could show lesions that may not be detected on an x-ray
  • Sputum cytology, which tests mucus from coughing to see if there are cancerous cells
  • Bronchoscopy, in which your doctor examines your lungs using a lighted tube that's passed down your throat and into your lungs
  • Mediastinoscopy, in which your doctor may make an incision in your neck and surgical and take tissue samples from lymph nodes
  • Needle biopsy, in which your doctor inserts a needle through your chest wall and into your lungs to take cell samples
  • Biopsy (tissue sample) of lymph nodes or other areas where the cancer could have spread

Your doctor will closely analyze your imaging tests or tissue samples to see if you have squamous cell carcinoma or another form of lung cancer.

Most people with early stage squamous cell carcinoma don’t usually have symptoms, and the cancerous cells can’t be seen on an x-ray. It tends to spread outside the chest area more slowly (and later) than other major types of lung cancer. When doctors examine a biopsy, tumors from squamous cell carcinoma can range from well-differentiated to showing only minimal squamous cell features.

Tests to find out how advanced the cancer is

Once doctors find out what kind of lung cancer you have, your doctor will try to find out how advanced your cancer is (what stage it’s at) and whether it’s spread beyond your lungs. The stages of lung cancer range from 0 to IV, with the lower stages indicating cancer that is limited to the lung and stage IV indicating the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. Knowing the stage will help you and your doctor determine your treatment. 

Tests to determine the stage of your cancer include:

  • CT scans 
  • MRI
  • Positron emission tomography (PET), which is an imaging test that shows how your organs and tissues are functioning using a radioactive drug 
  • Bone scans 

How is squamous cell carcinoma treated?

You and your doctor will choose a treatment plan for lung cancer based on the type of lung cancer you have, the stage of your lung cancer, and your overall health and preferences. You may receive one type of treatment or a combination of multiple types of treatment. The most common treatments for lung cancer are surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. 


You and your doctor may decide surgery is right for you. Surgery for lung cancer involves removing cancer from your lung. 

There are three types of surgery commonly used to treat lung cancer. These include:

  • Segmentectomy or wedge resection, in which your doctor removes a small part of the lung
  • Lobectomy, in which your doctor removes one or two lobes of the lung
  • Pneumonectomy, in which your doctor removes an entire lung

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy sends high-energy beams of radiation to shrink cancer cells and kill tumors. It may be used in combination with surgery or chemotherapy. There are two types of radiation therapy. Sometimes, both types are used. 


Chemotherapy treatments are drugs that kill cancer. Chemotherapy drugs stop cancerous cells from being able to grow and reproduce. Your doctor may choose to use it alone or alongside radiation therapy or surgery.

Other lung cancer treatments 

Doctors sometimes suggest other treatments for people with lung cancer.

  • Photodynamic therapy (PDT), otherwise known as laser therapy, which is a type of cancer treatment that targets cancerous cells
  • Targeted therapies, such as medications that block blood vessels in new tumors to stop them from growing

Discover your treatment options at Beaumont

If doctors think you may have lung cancer, you can trust Beaumont to meet your treatment needs. Doctors at Beaumont detect more early stage cancers than any other hospital in Michigan. We use the most advanced treatments and the latest technology to offer patients individually targeted care. Our Lung Cancer Multidisciplinary Clinic at Corewell Health Beaumont Troy Hospital offers you a highly trained and experienced team of cancer specialists.

Through Beaumont’s Multidisciplinary Lung Cancer program, we develop an individualized treatment plan based on your unique situation. Your doctor will work closely with you to develop the most effective treatment plan for you.