Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is an abnormal growth or lesion arising from the skin’s basal layer, the deepest layer of the epidermis (the outer layer of the skin). Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer. When a person is overexposed to UVB radiation, it damages the body’s natural repair system, which causes basal cell carcinomas to grow. These tend to be slow-growing tumors and rarely metastasize (spread) to other organ systems.
What does basal cell carcinoma look like?
Basal cell carcinomas can present in a number of different ways:
• raised pink or pearly white bump with a pearly edge and small, visible blood vessels
• pigmented bumps that look like moles with a pearly edge
• a sore that continuously heals and re-opens
• flat scaly scar with a waxy appearance and blurred edges
Despite the different appearances of the cancer, they all tend to bleed with little or no cause. Eighty-five percent of basal cell carcinomas occur on the face and neck since these are areas that are most exposed to the sun.
What are the risk factors for developing a basal cell carcinoma?
The BIG cause:
Both long term sun exposure over the course of a lifetime as well as intense sun exposure (sunburn) combined can cause sun-damaged skin that may lead to basal cell carcinoma.
On rare occasions, however, tumors develop on unexposed areas. In a few cases, contact with arsenic, exposure to radiation, open sores that resist healing, chronic inflammatory skin conditions, and complications of burns, scars, infections, vaccinations, or even tattoos are contributing factors. It is not possible to pinpoint a precise, single cause for a specific tumor, especially one found on a sun-protected area of the body or in an extremely young individual.
Other risk factors for developing a basal cell carcinoma include: having fair skin, sun exposure, age (most skin cancers occur after age 50), exposure to ultraviolet radiation (as in tanning beds) and therapeutic radiation given to treat an unrelated health issue.
Diagnosing basal cell carcinoma requires a biopsy — either excisional, where the entire tumor is removed along with some of the surrounding tissue, or incisional, where only a part of the tumor is removed (used primarily for large lesions).
Treatments for basal cell carcinoma include:
• Cryosurgery — Some basal cell carcinomas respond to cryosurgery, where liquid nitrogen is used to freeze off the tumor.
• Curettage and Desiccation — The preferred method of dermatologists, this treatment involves using a small metal instrument (called a curette) to scrape out the tumor along with an application of an electric current into the tissue to kill off any remaining cancer cells.
• Mohs Micrographic Surgery — The preferred method for large tumors, Mohs Micrographic Surgery combines the removal of cancerous tissue with the microscopic review while the surgery takes place. By mapping the diseased tissue layer by layer, less healthy skin is damaged when removing the tumor.
• Prescription Medicated Creams — These creams can be applied at home. They stimulate the body’s natural immune system over the course of weeks.
• Radiation Therapy — Radiation therapy is used for difficult-to-treat tumors, either because of their location, severity or persistence.
• Surgical Excision — In this treatment, the tumor is surgically removed and stitched up.