What is squamous cell lung carcinoma?

Carcinoma means cancer that's in the outer layer of the skin or the lining of one of your organs. Lung carcinoma is cancer that starts in the lungs.

Squamous cell lung carcinoma is a type of non-small cell lung cancer. It's called this because it starts in the squamous cells, which are the cells found in the lining of your lungs.

Most lung cancers are non-small cell (80–85%), and 25–30% of all lung cancers are squamous cell.

Common related conditions
Lung Cancer Lung Adenocarcinoma

Causes of squamous cell lung carcinoma

Smoking is definitely the biggest cause of squamous cell lung carcinoma. Most people who get lung cancer are smokers.

However, some people who have never smoked can develop squamous cell lung carcinoma too. Possible causes are:

  • Second-hand smoke breathed in by living with a smoker
  • Radon gas that leaks from the soil into the water or air of your home or workplace
  • Chemicals where you work including asbestos and diesel exhaust
  • Air pollution that's heavy where you live or work

Risk factors of squamous cell lung carcinoma

The more cigarettes you smoke each day and the longer you've been smoking make you more at risk for developing squamous cell lung carcinoma. Quitting anytime lowers your risk.

The other risks for getting squamous cell lung carcinoma are the same as its causes. One additional risk is if you have a family member who has had lung cancer.

Symptoms of squamous cell lung carcinoma

At first you may not have any symptoms of lung cancer. But over time, you might experience:

  • Coughing that won't go away
  • Trouble breathing
  • Feeling tired
  • Pain in your chest
  • Sore throat when swallowing
  • Losing weight for no reason
  • Not feeling hungry
  • A hoarse voice
  • Coughing up blood or mucus
  • Fever

Diagnosis of squamous cell lung carcinoma

If you have symptoms of squamous cell lung carcinoma, see your doctor. Other conditions have similar symptoms, but if it is lung cancer, catching it early means you have a greater chance of getting better.

Your doctor will ask you questions about your symptoms and if you've been exposed to any risk factors. If they suspect lung cancer, these tests help make a diagnosis:

  • Imaging tests — tests like chest x-ray, CT scan or MRI check for masses in your lungs and can show more detail if found.
  • Sputum sample — if something shows up on an imaging test, your doctor checks for cancer cells in mucus that you've coughed up.
  • Tissue sample — your doctor takes a small piece of tissue (biopsy) from your lung that looks abnormal. This is then studied under a microscope for cancer cells.

Your doctor may also use other more advanced test to see if the cancer has spread outside your lungs.

Treatments for squamous cell lung carcinoma

The best treatment for you depends on how much the squamous cell lung carcinoma has spread and your overall health. Treatment options are:


The surgeon removes a small part of your lung (wedge resection), a larger part (segmental resection), an entire lobe of one lung (lobectomy) or all of your lung (pneumonectomy).

Chemotherapy and radiation therapy

Lung cancer doesn't respond as well to these as other cancers do. However, they may be used to slow the growth of your cancer before or after surgery. Chemotherapy uses chemicals to kill cancer cells. Radiation therapy uses strong energy beams to kill them.


This is intense radiation aimed at the cancer cells from many angles. Your doctor may use it just once or a few times. It may be helpful to those who can't undergo surgery.


Your body's own immune system attacks the lung cancer with the help of medicines that work with your body.

Targeted drug therapy

Certain drugs can change lung cancer cells. When they do, the cancer eventually dies. This therapy has less side effects than chemotherapy drugs.

Find a lung cancer specialist nearby

Mercy Health locations that can treat you