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Basal Cell Carcinoma

Basal Cell Carcinoma Basics

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common form of skin cancer. An estimated 4.3 million cases of basal cell carcinoma are diagnosed in the U.S. each year.

Basal cell carcinoma starts in the top layer of skin (the epidermis) and is often related to sun exposure or indoor tanning. It can appear to be a pink and/or scaly patch of skin or as a flesh-colored pearl-like bump on the skin. It typically develops in people with fair skin, although it can also affect people with darker skin. Basal cell carcinoma are commonly located on the head, neck and arms, but they can form anywhere on the body, including the chest, abdomen and legs.

Basal Cell Carcinoma Prevention

Ultraviolet light is the most preventable risk factor for all types of skin cancer, including basal cell carcinoma. Protect your skin from UVA/UVB rays anytime you’re outdoors by:

  • Applying a broad-spectrum sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher
  • A good rule of thumb is to re-apply suncreen every two hours or after swimming or sweating
  • Wear a wide-brimmed hat and sun-protective clothing, and plan to enjoy the outdoors during non-peak sunlight hours
  • Avoid tanning beds, which can cause premature aging and skin cancer

Basal Cell Carcinoma Diagnosis

Early diagnosis and treatment for basal cell carcinoma is important because this type of skin cancer can invade the surrounding tissue and grow into nerves, muscle or cartilage, causing damage and disfigurement. However, when caught early, basal cell carcinoma is highly treatable.

When you visit our office because you’ve noticed a suspicious-looking spot on your skin, your dermatologist will first perform a physical exam and gather information about your health history. Then, depending upon this evaluation, your dermatologist may remove a portion of the lesion if he or she suspects the potential for skin cancer. This is called a skin biopsy. A biopsy is essential because it’s the only way to determine the presence of skin cancer with 100 percent certainty.

A pathologist will examine the skin your dermatologist has removed under a microscope, looking for skin cancer cells. The pathologist will then provide a biopsy report to your dermatologist to direct our next steps of treatment

It can take one to two weeks for your dermatologist to receive and review your biopsy report. These results will guide further followup or treatment. If a diagnosis of skin cancer is confirmed, we will help you determine the most appropriate course of care.

Basal Cell Carcinoma Treatment

The preferred treatment for your basal cell carcinoma depends on its size and location. Some low-risk forms of basal cell carcinoma may be treated with a procedure called curettage. Topical chemotherapy creams can also sometimes be appropriate for BCC. Surgical excision is frequently used for basal cell carcinoma less amenable to curettage or topical treatments. Occasionally, radiation or systemic medications are recommended.

Mohs Micrographic Surgery is an advanced treatment for basal cell carcinoma. It has the highest cure rate and also spares the most surrounding skin, offering you the best cosmetic and functional outcome. Mohs surgery is often the treatment of choice for higher-risk skin cancers or skin cancers in areas where there is not as much surrounding skin or tissue, such as the face, ears, scalp and hands. For full details about this procedure, please visit our Mohs Surgery information page.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a basal cell?

One of three main types of cells in the top layer of the skin, basal cells shed as new ones form. Basal cell carcinoma most often occurs when DNA damage from exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or indoor tanning triggers changes in basal cells in the outermost layer of skin (epidermis), resulting in uncontrolled growth.

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What does BCC look like?

Basal cell carcinoma can look different from one person to another. They can look like open sores, red patches, pink growths, shiny bumps, scars or growths with slightly elevated, rolled edges and/or a central indentation. They may ooze, crust, itch or bleed. The lesions commonly arise in sun-exposed areas of the body. In patients with darker skin, about half of basal cell carcinoma are pigmented (meaning brown in color).

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How dangerous is BCC?

While basal cell carcinoma rarely spread beyond the original tumor site, if allowed to grow, these lesions can be disfiguring and dangerous. Left untreated, they can become locally invasive, grow wide and deep into the skin and destroy skin, tissue and bone. The longer you wait to have a basal cell treated, the more likely it is to recur, sometimes repeatedly.

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How widespread is BCC?

Basal cell carcinoma is quite common, and the number of reported cases in the U.S. has steadily increased.

  • More than 4 million Americans are diagnosed with BCC each year.
  • More than one out of every three new cancers are skin cancers, and the vast majority are BCCs.
  • The diagnosis and treatment of nonmelanoma skin cancers, including BCC and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), increased up to 77 percent between 1994 and 2014.

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