Basal Cell Carcinoma

Know More: Basal Cell Carcinoma

Trustworthy information, straight from the source. Education is the first step in an empowering healthcare plan. Learn more about basal cell carcinoma from prevention to diagnosis and treatment.

Cancer consultation between patient and doctor

Condition Overview

What is basal cell carcinoma?

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is a common skin cancer. Cancer occurs when cells grow without control or order. BCC begins in the epidermis (top layer of the skin) and the cancer cells form a tumor. BCC grows slowly and rarely spreads. However, without treatment, BCC can spread to surrounding tissues and grow into your muscles and bones.

What increases my risk of basal cell carcinoma?

  • Ultraviolet (UV) rays in sunlight or tanning beds: You have a higher risk if you spend a lot of time outdoors without sun protection or use tanning beds. The risk is also higher if you were exposed to the sun a lot as a child.
  • Fair skin: BCC is most common in people with light skin that burns instead of tans.
  • Over the age of 40: BCC is usually found in older people, but it is becoming more common in younger people.
  • Other skin cancers or radiation treatments: Your risk is higher if you have had skin cancer before. Radiation treatments for any kind of cancer increase your risk for skin cancer.
  • Male: BCC happens twice as often in men. This may be because men spend more time outdoors.

Diagnosis & Treatment Options

What are the signs of basal cell carcinoma?

BCC usually forms on skin that has been exposed to the sun. Tumors on the head, ears, nose and neck are common. Most tumors are not painful. The following are common signs of a BCC:

  • Shiny, waxy, pale or pink bumps or growths that may have blood vessels on the surface.
  • Red, scaly patches.
  • Open sores that may bleed and do not heal.

How is basal cell carcinoma diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask when you first saw the growth and if the size, color or shape have changed since you first saw it. Your provider will look over the rest of your skin for other growths and will ask about your family history of skin cancer, your past sunburns and the time you spend in the sun or in tanning beds.

You may also need a biopsy. A biopsy removes part of the growth to be tested for cancer cells. Your healthcare provider will numb your skin with a shot of local anesthetic and will shave a thin piece off the top or cut into the skin to remove a piece of the tumor.

How is basal cell carcinoma treated?

Treatment depends on your cancer, the area affected, and any other health conditions you may have. Treatments may include:

  • Surgery: Surgery is the most common treatment. Your healthcare provider numbs the skin and removes the tumor. Your provider may look at the tissue pieces with a microscope to make sure all of the cancer cells are removed. Or, your provider may use an electric needle to burn off cancer cells or freeze the tumor with a chemical called liquid nitrogen.
  • Skin medicines: Your healthcare provider may put medicines on your skin to help remove the cancer. This includes medicines that kill the cancer cells directly or help your immune system to attack the cancer cells.
  • Radiation: You may need radiation treatment if you cannot have surgery, are older or have a large tumor. Radiation therapy uses special X-rays to kill the cancer cells.

Preparing for Care

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have a fever.
  • Your biopsy or surgical wound is painful, red and swollen.
  • You have a sore that has not healed within two months.
  • You see new growths on your skin.
  • The size, shape or color of a mole or freckle has changed.