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Recognizing Basal Cell Skin Carcinoma

Updated on August 2, 2012
example of basal cell cancer located on the face
example of basal cell cancer located on the face
example of basal cell cancer as a flat lesion
example of basal cell cancer as a flat lesion
example of a basal cell cancer located on the back
example of a basal cell cancer located on the back
basal cell carcinoma of the scalp
basal cell carcinoma of the scalp

Basal Cell Skin Cancer is a slow growing form of cancer. It is the most common type of skin cancer, accounting for 75% of all skin cancers reported. Though it's not likely to become deadly and rarely spreads, if left untreated, it can grow into surrounding tissues and bone, causing disfigurement. It is especially worrisome if it appears near the eyes, nose, or ears.

This form of cancer begins in the upper layer of skin called the epidermis, most often in areas that are regularly exposed to ultraviolet rays coming from sun exposure. There is also a wide occurrence of a cancer appearing on the scalp. In the past, basal cell cancer was most often seen in people over 40, but recent studies show the trend changing to include much younger ages. This is probably due to the increased practice of skin tanning. The risk for basal cell carcinoma are higher if you are light skinned or sunburn easily, you have light colored eyes, your hair is blonde or red, or if you suffer overexposure to sunlight and other ultraviolet radiation such as xrays.

Even though growth is normally very slow and painless, any new skin growth that bleeds easily or does not heal well should be examined as it may be suggestive of cancer. Basal cell often looks much like the surrounding areas of skin with only a very slight difference. The growth may be of a slightly different color, or appear as a skin bump. The appearance may vary from one to another. Sometimes they have a pearly or waxy look to them. The coloring can be light pink, even white, to flesh colored or brown. The skin might be only slightly raised, and occasionally flat.

Other symptoms and characteristics of a skin cancer are: A skin sore that bleeds easily or does not heal, continued oozing or crusting spots in a sore, a sore with a sunken area in the middle, the appearance of a scar-like mark in an area never having suffered an injury, irregular blood vessels in and around the target.

Once the affected area is examined by a physician and it is determined that cancer is a possibility, a biopsy will be performed. As there are many different types of skin biopsies, your doctor will determine the correct one based on the location of the cancer. This is necessary in order to confirm the diagnosis.

The method for removal of the cancerous growth depends on the location, the size, and the depth. There are several possible treatments which can be recommended:

  • Excision, or cutting out, of the tumor using stitches to pull the skin back together

  • Surgery such as Moh's surgery. The affected area is cut out and immediately checked microscopically for cancer. The procedure is repeated until the skin sample is cancer free.

  • Curettage and electrodesiccation which scrapes away the cancer and then kills the remaining cells with electricity

  • Cryosurgery, a process that freezes and kills the cancer cells

  • Radiation for the rare instances where the cancer has spread to lymph nodes or other organs. It is also used to treat tumors located in areas that can not be reached through surgery.

  • Medicated skin creams used for treating superficial basal cell cancers

Small basal cell cancers have a minute incidence of return while the larger ones have a 10% likelihood where any form of treatment other than Moh's surgery is used. With Moh's, there is about a 1% possibility that the cancer will return.

Regularly scheduled appointments with your physician should be made for follow-up, usually about every six months. You should do a self-examination monthly, using mirrors to check hard to see areas of the skin. Look for any new growths or changes of color, size, texture, or appearance. Also make note if you notice bleeding, itching, swelling, redness, or pain. Your physician should be contacted if anything suspicious is discovered.

The best way to prevent basal cell cancer is to keep sun exposure to a the minimum required to remain healthy, as with vitamin absorption needs. Ultraviolet rays are most intense during midday hours, so it is best to reduce the amount of time spent in the sun at that time. Wearing long sleeves, hats, and long pants will help to reduce exposure. A sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 should be applied 30 minutes prior to going out, and should be worn even in the winter. When choosing a sunscreen, look for those which offer protection from both UVA and UVB light.

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    • Terri Meredith profile image

      Terri Meredith 6 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Thanks for your input. I had my own scary run-in with Basal Cell Carcinoma. I had ignored it for far too long until it became very aggressive. Now I pay close attention.

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 6 years ago from the short journey

      Bravo for a well-done and important hub.

      May I add that not all basel cell cancers are recognized by typical symptoms so be persistent if you have a "thing" that you wonder about even if a doc says not to worry.

      I had a "thing" on the top of my head at a very young age. Docs ignored me when I told them it was odd, that something was wrong. I gave up until my hairdresser said, "Go to your doctor." The docs paid attention to that and biopsied it. Sure enough, I had to go back in for a "little" surgery. Then, another. It was deep--and there's not that much on the top of one's head! End of story (I hope) is that I was left with a big dip on top. All the trouble could have been prevented if the first time I mentioned it a doc had taken me seriously and just taken it out.

      As well, another doc in another state ignored my husband's concern about a "thing" on his temple. Thankfully, the next doc checked it out. Melanoma, caught early because we kept mentioning it.