Squamous cell carcinomas (SCCs) represent the most frequent human solid tumors and are a major cause of cancer mortality. These highly heterogeneous tumors arise from closely interconnected epithelial cell populations with intrinsic self-renewal potential inversely related to the stratified differentiation program. SCCs can also originate from simple or pseudo-stratified epithelia through activation of quiescent cells and/or a switch in cell-fate determination. Here, we focus on specific determinants implicated in the development of SCCs by recent large-scale genomic, genetic, and epigenetic studies, and complementary functional analysis. The evidence indicates that SCCs from various body sites, while clinically treated as separate entities, have common determinants, pointing to a unified perspective of the disease and potential new avenues for prevention and treatment.
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