Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of non-melanoma skin cancer.
This type of cancer often looks like a pink waxy bump that may bleed following
minor injury. There may be irregular blood vessels on its surface and
its center may be sunken in. Large basal cell carcinomas may have oozing
or crusted areas.
Basal cell carcinomas typically occur on sun-exposed skin of the face,
ears, neck and trunk but may also occur on the arms or legs. Basal cell
carcinomas grow slowly and rarely spread to other parts of the body (metastasize).
However, if left untreated, they can become locally invasive and destroy
surrounding muscle, bone and nerves causing significant disfigurement
and functional problems.
There are several subtypes of basal cell carcinoma. Some are more aggressive
than others. The subtype of basal cell carcinoma is identified by skin
biopsy and examination under a microscope.
What causes basal cell carcinoma? The most common cause of basal cell
carcinoma is ultraviolet
light (UV), specifically ultraviolet B (UVB, 290-320 nm). Indoor tanning,
fair-skinned complexion, prior radiation exposure and inherited genetic
conditions such as nevoid basal cell carcinoma syndrome or Basex's syndrome
are other important risks factors.
What's UV light? Learn
How can I protect myself from developing a basal cell carcinoma? The first
step in protecting yourself from basal cell carcinoma begins with you.
The key to preventative therapy is sun protection. Sun protection has
- Sun avoidance
during peak sun times from 10am to 3pm.
- Sun protective
clothing (long sleeve shirts, long pants, hats with broad brims,
- Daily Sunblock
with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) = 30
Examine your skin once a month for any suspicious changes. The single
most important feature that may signal the presence of a skin cancer is
a new, changing, enlarging skin growth that persists. Sores that won't
heal may also indicate cancerous or precancerous conditions of the skin
that need attention. Early treatment is critical.
Contact your primary care physician or a local dermatologist
so they may examine the skin lesion that you are concerned with. If your
doctor suspects that the lesion may be cancerous, he/she might perform
a skin biopsy.
If the diagnosis of basal cell carcinoma is confirmed, treatment often
involves outpatient surgery. Contact your
dermatologist to discuss the full range of treatment options.
Once you've had one basal cell carcinoma, you are at higher risk for developing
additional basal cell carcinomas in the future. You are also at risk for
developing other types of skin cancer, including squamous cell carcinoma
Most patients with a history of basal cell carcinoma should see their
dermatologist for a full skin evaluation at least once a year. In some
cases, the dermatologist may recommend more frequent skin examinations.
on an image for a larger view)
|Translucent pearly pink papule near the right eye.
This tumor has the characteristic translucent, pearly quality with
superficial blood vessels. Notice its depressed, almost scar-like
appearance, commonly seen in the infiltrative subtype of basal cell
Microscopic view of superficial basal cell carcinoma
Rubin AI, Chen EH, Ratner D, "Basal-cell carcinoma." N Engl
J Med. 2005 Nov 24;353(21):2262-9. Rubin AI, Chen EH, Ratner D, "Basal-cell
carcinoma." N Engl J Med. 2005 Nov 24;353(21):2262-9.