Basal Cell Carcinoma

Basal Cell Carcinoma

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common form of cancer worldwide. It can be destructive and disfiguring. The risk of developing BCC is increased for people with a family history of BCC. Those with a high cumulative exposure to sunlight or, were exposed to chemicals such as arsenic are also at risk. Though it can be disfiguring if left untreated, BCC is rarely life-threatening. It does not usually travel in the bloodstream or metastasize; instead it invades the surrounding tissues and bone.

What does Basal Cell Carcinoma look like?

Basal cell cancer frequently appears on areas exposed to the sun such as the chest, back, legs, face, scalp, and ears. These tumors can have many different forms. Usually, the appearance of basal cell cancer is in the form of a small dome-shaped bump that has a milky white color. Blood vessels may be observed on the surface. Sometimes, a basal cell cancer will appear as a pimple-like growth that heals, only to come back again and again. The most common sign of basal cell cancer is a sore that bleeds, heals, and then recurs again and again.

How is Basal Cell Carcinoma diagnosed?

Your physician will examine you and decide whether to perform a biopsy. It is a simple procedure done in the office. First, the physician will inject a tiny amount of anesthesia like the type your dentist uses. After the area is numb, the physician will take a small sample of the growth. The wound will be bandaged and you will be told how to care for the wound. The area will heal in five to seven days. If you have BCC the biopsy results will indicate what kind of basal cell cancer it is. In some cases, when the BCC is very thin, your physician can treat it at the time of the biopsy.

How is Basal Cell Carcinoma treated?

Most BCCs are removed by surgery. “Electrodessication and curettage” (ED&C) is also a common method used for treatment. This is done by scraping out the growth with a curette and cauterizing the margins and base. The wound is left to heal by itself, which is called “secondary intention healing.” In most cases, the cure rate and cosmetic result are very good, especially in areas that are concave. This treatment method is also the most cost-effective.

Another option is surgical excision by the physician with the margins of excised tissue examined under the microscope. Certain types of BCCs, like the sclerosing basal cell carcinoma, may require the physician to take larger margins around the growth. This is because the tumor may extend outside the visible area. Although BCCs are called carcinomas, their life-threatening potential is low - and therefore are not part of the national cancer statistics.

How to prevent Basal Cell Carcinoma

Because the vast majority of basal cell cancer cases are caused by exposure to ultraviolet radiation, proper sun protection may help to prevent their development. 85% of a person’s lifetime sun exposure is acquired before age 18. Careful sun protection in children may effectively prevent basal cell cancer later in life. To cut your risk of developing BCC, follow these easy preventative measures:

  • Apply sunscreen with a sun protection factor of 15 or greater while outdoors. Reapply sunscreen every 1 1/2 hours
  • Wear a broad-brimmed hat and sun protective clothing
  • Avoid the sun between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m.