If you’re worried about getting skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma is the one you want to watch out for. Basal cell carcinoma occurs in about 8 out of 10 people diagnosed with a nonmelanoma growth, according to the American Cancer Society.
Basal cell carcinoma, like its counterpart squamous cell carcinoma, may sound a little scary and often shows up as a wart-like bump or open sore on your face. Both are nonmelanoma skin cancers – a common type of skin cancer that is often benign and slow-growing.
It’s still important to seek out treatment early to prevent the basal cell carcinoma from spreading, especially if it is on your face. Left unchecked, the growth can require more invasive treatment or cause some scarring or disfigurement. There are several basal cell carcinoma treatment options available, and many procedures can be done by your dermatologist with minimal pain, side effects, or scarring.
May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month and a great time to schedule a skin cancer screening. You should review the risk factors for all skin cancers, know what to look for, and get a game plan for the summer days ahead. Your skin has to carry you through the decades. Repeated sun exposure eventually takes its toll in the way of wrinkles, sun spots, and skin cancer.
What is basal cell carcinoma?
Although basal cell carcinoma has high cure rates, it’s still the leading type of skin cancer. The risks shouldn’t be downplayed. Basal cell carcinoma is serious and should be evaluated and treated as soon as you notice something suspicious.
- Most common cancer worldwide
- More than 3 million cases annually in the U.S.
- BCC and SCC are on the rise, but death from these cancers is rare
- Growth often occurs on sun-exposed skin, including face, head, and neck
- Very slow growing
- Rarely spreads beyond the original location
- Risks factors include age, UV exposure, fair complexion, immunosuppression
- Left untreated, they can grow into nearby areas and invade other tissues
- Frequent BCCs may predispose patients to a more serious problem
- If not removed completely, BCCs can recur in the same place
Basal cell carcinoma causes and symptoms
Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light is the biggest culprit for both BCC and SCC, so it’s important to wear a good SPF sunscreen and limit your time in the sun. Most skin cancers typically start in the top layer of skin (the epidermis), where these cells turn cancerous and begin to grow out of control.
- Basal cells are in the lower part of the epidermis, or basal cell layer
- These cells form new cells to replace squamous cells near the skin’s surface
- Occurs when DNA damage from UV exposure or indoor tanning triggers changes in basal cells in the epidermis
- Usually starts as a nonhealing spot that bleeds easily
- Don’t freak out! These cancers are very slow growing!
- Talk to your PCP or dermatologist to arrange to be seen for evaluation
- You may need a biopsy
So what should you watch for?
- Look out for any new, changing, or unusual skin growths
- Pay particular attention to new spots or growths on the skin that gets repeated sun exposure
- An open sore that does not heal or appears to heal and come back
- Signs for concern – any spot that looks red and scabby or bleeds, oozes, or crusts over
- A small pink growth with raised or rolled edges and crusty, an indentation in center
- A reddish patch or irritated area on your face, arm, chest, shoulder, leg
- A shiny bump or growth that looks pearly or clear, pink or red, and may resemble a mole
- A spot that is flat with a white or waxy appearance or skin that appears shiny and taut with poorly defined borders
- A spot that is pigmented if you have darker skin
Basal cell carcinoma treatment
Skin cancer can be a scary diagnosis. But basal cell carcinoma treatment is highly effective with early detection and removal. Many of the treatment options are similar for both basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. They can be done in your dermatologist’s office and have a good prognosis if caught early.
- The type of treatment depends on many things including the size of the cancer, location, depth of growth, rate of growth, your age, health, and other risk factors.
- Your dermatologist will discuss these factors with you and decide on the appropriate treatment together.
- Continue to practice prevention strategies: Avoid the sun and tanning beds, wear sunscreen, wear protective clothing, seek the shade, regularly examine your skin, see your dermatologist annually.
There are many options for the treatment of these cancers:
Electrodesiccation and Curettage (ED&C)
The BCC is scraped or shaved off using a curette. Heat or a chemical agent is applied to destroy the remaining cancer cells and close off the wound. Effective for most small BCC growths, with a cure rate of nearly 95 percent.
The most effective treatment for BCC, this in-office procedure involves removing the tumor and a small margin of tissue around the tumor. A surgeon or dermatologist trained in Mohs Surgery examines the tissue under a microscope to see if any cancerous tissue remains. If so, the process is repeated until the cancerous cells are removed. Recommended for most BCCs, including larger or more aggressive tumors or ones that have returned.
Cancerous growth is extracted with a scalpel, along with a “safety margin” of tissue, and sent to the lab for analysis. It may need to be done again if more cancer is found outside the margins. Quick and effective, especially for BCCs that have not spread. The procedure is 95 percent effective and can be done on most body areas.
No cutting or anesthesia required. Low-energy X-ray beams target and destroy the tumor, but several rounds of radiation may be needed. This procedure has lower cure rates and is less precise. It’s typically used for BCCs that are hard to treat with surgery.
This procedure uses liquid nitrogen to freeze and destroy the tumor. The affected area blisters and falls off so healthy skin can regenerate. Commonly used for smaller or superficial BCCs.
Mohs Surgery is one of the best basal cell carcinoma treatments for the face. It has the highest possible cure rate – up to 99 percent on tumors treated for the first time. Mohs is recommended for areas around the eyes, nose, lips, fingers, scalp, and other delicate areas. The procedure is very precise, sparing healthy tissue and removing only what is necessary.
Other treatments include photodynamic therapy, laser surgery, topical medications, and even some oral medications for rare or advanced cases of BCC. The best basal cell carcinoma treatment depends on a variety of factors, so it’s wise to do your research and discuss treatment options with your dermatologist.
What you don’t want to do is simply ignore or minimize a growth that won’t go away. If you notice a spot that doesn’t look or feel right, have it checked out. When it comes to skin issues, especially cancer, it’s better to err on the side of caution and catch a problem early.