Basal Cell Carcinoma

What you need to know about basal cell skin cancer.

Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer. It is typically tied to long-term, excessive, or intense sun exposure. Cancerous spots usually appear on sun-exposed parts of the body, such as the arms, ears, nose, face, and neck.

Fair-skinned people develop this type of cancer most often, but it can affect anyone of any skin color. More men than women are diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma.

Basal cell carcinoma starts in the basal cells deep within the skin. It can damage and destroy the skin that surrounds the cancerous mole or lesion. However, it rarely spreads to other areas of the body.

Types of basal cell carcinoma

There are many different types of basal cell carcinoma, including:

  • Nodular: This type is often a pearly, semitransparent nodule with an indented center and a rolled-back, waxy border. Ulceration and crusting are common. These lesions frequently develop on the face.
  • Pigmented: This type appears as a shiny, blue-black nodule or plaque. These lesions can have a pearly, waxy, rolled-back border with an uneven or speckled pigment.
  • Superficial: These lesions have a reddened, slightly scaly, round, well-defined patch with a pearly, rolled border. The lesions may have central erosion and crusting. This type of lesion is most commonly found on the chest.
  • Scarring: This type of basal cell carcinoma is the least common but most aggressive. The skin appears as a crusted plaque that resembles a scar.

The way your skin lesion looks depends on the type of basal cell carcinoma and how long the lesion has been present.

Diagnosis

You may notice a lesion or nodule during a skin self-examination or professional skin cancer screening. If your dermatologists suspects the spot is skin cancer, we’ll take a biopsy to make sure.

Once we have a diagnosis, your skin cancer team will talk through your treatment options with you. Basal cell carcinoma is highly curable with early detection and proper treatment.

Treatment

These are the typical basal cell carcinoma treatment options:

  • Curettage and electrodessication: The lesion is scraped off and an electrical current burns off remaining cancer cells
  • Excisional surgery: The cancerous mole or lesion is cut from the skin
  • Mohs surgery: A tissue-sparing surgical procedure
  • Photodynamic therapy: A special light activates medication to kill the lesion
  • Topical chemotherapeutic agents: Medications such as imiquimod are applied to the lesion to destroy it

Your skin cancer team will walk through the treatment options that will give you the best results with the least damage to healthy skin.

Once you’ve had basal cell carcinoma, you’re at increased risk to develop it again. After treatment, it’s important to practice sun safety to avoid a new cancer.

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