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What is Squamous Cell Carcinoma ?

Squamous cell carcinoma in birds is a type of cancer which affects the squamous cells. These cells are located in the skin’s outer layer, known as the epidermis. They are also prevalent in the respiratory passages and the digestive tracts of birds. Organs which are considered “hollow” also contain squamous cells. This type of cancer is also known as skin cancer. In birds, it typically occurs on the toes, the tips of the wings, circling the beak, and the eyes.

One common cause of skin cancer in birds is the same as humans: overexposure to sunlight. Typically, birds that are raised in a home environment do not become affected by squamous cell carcinoma. This type of cancer is usually found in outside birds, such as hens or other birds that have regular exposure to the sun.

Squamous cell carcinoma may also occur on other body parts of the bird, such as on the phalanges and the head. The preen gland at the base of the tail, or uropygial gland, may also become affected. This cancer can be very invasive and hard to keep under control, even with various methods of modern treatments. Being very aware of the bird and being able to detect it early is key in any recovery.

Squamous cell carcinoma in birds is a malignancy that can occur in various bodily regions that contain squamous cells. This type of cancer can be quite invasive and needs to be treated early in order for the bird to overcome the disease.

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Symptoms of Squamous Cell Carcinoma in Birds

If your bird is showing the following symptoms, take him to the veterinarian. Symptoms of squamous cell carcinoma in birds include:

  • Ulcers
  • Chronic irritation
  • Hemorrhage
  • Anorexia
  • Exophthalmos
  • Dysphagia
  • Dyspnea
  • Discharge from nose


There are several different types of cancer that can affect birds of all kinds. Recovery depends on your bird’s unique diagnosis. Cancer types include:

  • Papilloma
  • Fibrosarcoma
  • Kidney cancer
  • Liver cancer
  • Stomach cancer
  • Glandular cancer
  • Lymphoma
  • Neoplasia

Causes of Squamous Cell Carcinoma in Birds

Causes of squamous cell carcinoma are still being studied, but research has shown that ultraviolet rays from the sun or other light source can contribute to unhealthy cells. Other possible causes may include:

  • Genetics
  • Diet
  • Mutations in DNA
  • Chronic bacterial infections
  • Fungal infections

Diagnosis of Squamous Cell Carcinoma in Birds

If your bird is exhibiting different behaviors or showing symptoms of possible carcinoma, contact your veterinarian. Your veterinarian will want to find as much information from you as possible, such as his environment, his overall health, any habits he may have (such as chewing or scratching of the skin), his diet, and any other information he feels would help him before he takes a closer look at your bird.

He will look closely at your bird’s symptoms and will begin to run a few tests after a physical examination. If any lesions are seen upon the skin, your veterinarian may take a sample of the cells from the area. He may do so using a scraping method to remove some of the cells and then send it off to be tested in order to make a diagnosis. 

If your bird is showing other symptoms where any lesions may be found internally, your veterinarian may perform imaging in the form of either a CT scan or radiograph. Once the images come back, the medical professional will be able to accurately see if there are any lesions. He will then have the ability to accurately perform a needle biopsy and cytology to check for cancerous cells.

Treatment of Squamous Cell Carcinoma in Birds

If your bird has squamous cell carcinoma, your veterinarian will communicate with you any method of treatments that may work to save your bird. Treatment methods may include:


Typically, squamous cell carcinoma is treated with excision of any tumor or lesion. The veterinary surgeon will use anesthesia when performing any surgery and monitor your bird very carefully during the operation.


Radiation therapy may be performed after surgery, or without surgery, depending on the severity of the cancer. Radiation therapy along using the strontium-90 probe has moderate success of squamous cell carcinoma of the preen gland in some cases.

Recovery of Squamous Cell Carcinoma in Birds

Since squamous cell carcinoma is locally invasive, whether your bird recovers depends on the amount of cancerous cells and the part of the body affected. Your veterinarian will communicate to you the chances of your bird recovering.

Your medical professional will want to see your avian friend repeatedly for radiation procedures if he feels your bird can benefit from this type of treatment. He will perform testing to check how the tumor is doing and if any other cancerous cells have spread.

After any surgery, it is important to follow your veterinarian’s instruction on how to care for your bird once he comes home. Isolation of your bird may be necessary for a while until any incisions heal. Your veterinarian may recommend a change in environment or diet, depending on the type of surgery he performed. If you see any new symptoms or behavioral changes, contact your veterinarian with any questions or concerns.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

African Grey Species
27 Years
Fair condition
0 found helpful
Fair condition

Has Symptoms



Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1611 Recommendations
I'm sorry that Teddie is having these problems. Without seeing her, I don't have any way of knowing what is happening with her, but if you saw a veterinarian and they thought that she had cancer, antibiotics won't sure cancer. It would be best to have her rechecked if she isn't doing well to see if there is anything else that can be done for her.

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Macaw Species
18 Years
Mild condition
0 found helpful
Mild condition

Once diagnosed wit squamous cell carcinoma and no treatment is wanted, how long would his life span be? Tumor was removed from eye. Wanting info from on how long will he live?

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3320 Recommendations
It is difficult to give an indication of prognosis as there are many variables involved and the condition generally has a guarded to poor prognosis in many cases. Given the specialised and different nature of avian medicine, I am unable to offer a life expectancy for Cleo; I would consult with an Avian Specialist which would have handled similar cases before to Cleo’s. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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