Basal Cell Carcinoma


What is Basal Cell Carcinoma?

Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer, affecting approximately 1,000,000 Americans yearly. It’s also the most common type of cancer worldwide. Because it is typically the result of chronic ultraviolet light exposure, most basal cell carcinomas arise on sun-exposed skin, particularly in people with fair complexions and light eyes. Other risk factors include blonde or red hair, family history of skin cancers, weakened immune system, history of radiation therapy or exposure to carcinogenic substances such as arsenic or coal tar.

Basal cell cancer does not typically spread (or metastasize) to distant body sites through the blood or lymphatic systems, but it does continue to grow and cause local destruction if left untreated. This local spread is particularly concerning if a basal cell carcinoma arises near the eyes, nose, ears or nerves. Early diagnosis and prompt treatment are necessary to achieve the best outcome.

What does basal cell carcinoma look like?

Basal cell carcinoma has many different appearances. It can look like small, dome-shaped bumps or larger, ulcerated nodules. Many will have small blood vessels, called telangectasias, visible on their surface upon close inspection. Other variants include a scaly red patch on the skin or scar-like lesion. Although most are flesh-toned to red in color, some contain pigment which cause them to appear brown or black. As they grow, basal cells may bleed or ulcerate.

Any skin lesion which grows, bleeds, changes size or fails to heal should be examined by your dermatologist.

How is basal cell carcinoma diagnosed?

During a skin examination, your dermatologist will identify and biopsy any suspicious lesions. The skin sample is sent to a laboratory and processed before very thin slices are placed onto a slide. Your dermatopathologists will look at the slide under a microscope and make a diagnosis. This result is presented to your doctor in a final dermatopathology report.

What are the treatment options for basal cell carcinoma?

Multiple modalities are available for the treatment of basal cell carcinoma, and your physician will consider the size, location and subtype of your carcinoma before choosing the best individualized option for you. Many basal cell carcinomas are surgically excised, either by a simple excision or more specialized procedure called Mohs micrographic surgery. Others are treated by electodessication and curettage, a scraping method followed by cauterization with an electric needle. In some instances, basal cell carcinoma may undergo liquid nitrogen cryotherapy, radiation therapy, treatment with a topical cream or photodynamic therapy.

Will I get another basal cell carcinoma?

Once you have been diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma, your risk for developing another is approximately 40%. You are also at increased risk for other skin cancers, including melanoma. That is why it is important to schedule regular appointments with your dermatologist, so that any future skin cancers may be discovered and treated as early as possible.

How can I protect myself from precancerous lesions or skin cancer?

The use of an appropriate and frequent sunscreen, protective clothing and broad-brimmed hats are critical preventing further damage caused by the sun’s ultraviolet rays. When planning outdoor
activities, attempt to avoid peak hours of ultraviolet exposure, which typically occur from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. Choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) greater than 30, and reapply every two hours and after water exposure. Seek the shade and be conscious of ultraviolet reflections from water and snow. Do not use indoor tanning facilities.

Be sure to perform monthly self skin examination and immediately report any suspicious lesions to your dermatologist.

Where can I get other information about basal cell carcinoma?

Please visit any of the following resources for additional information: