What Is Basal Cell Carcinoma?

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common form of skin cancer. Your skin has a layer of basal cells, which line the deepest layer of the epidermis. For different reasons those basal cells can mutate, leading to unchecked growth, which manifests as basal cell skin cancer. These lesions may start looking like shiny translucent bumps, pink growths, red patches, open bleeding sores, or even scars. Their appearance can be traced back to risk factors such as overexposure to the sun, tanning beds, and fair skin. More than four million people a year are diagnosed with basal cell carcinomas.

Warning Signs

Basal cell carcinoma can be difficult to spot at first as it can be mistaken for other noncancerous skin issues such as eczema, psoriasis, moles, and sebaceous hyperplasia. It is important to rely on a skin cancer specialist to diagnosis BCC with certainty. If you begin noticing changes to a localized area of your skin, don’t delay in having it looked at as soon as possible. Early BCC often mimics a pimple, but pimples should resolve within 2 to 3 weeks. If you have a bump or pimple that persists longer than 3 to 4 weeks consider skin cancer and get checked. BCCs are rarely fatal, but poor outcomes can be avoided with quick action and effective treatment. If undiagnosed, it can lead to disfigurements or nerve and muscle injuries due to the large area of tissue, which may need to be removed.

Causes and Risks

The sun is the main culprit when it comes to identifying the major cause of basal cell carcinoma. It is a common misperception that only recent sunburns cause BCCs, which can certainly be a contributing factor. However, it is possible that all skin cancers, including BCCs, are the result of exposure to the sun over your entire lifetime. They usually occur on those areas of your body that are most exposed to the sun, such as your face, ears, neck, scalp, shoulders, and back. Additional causes are open sores that won’t heal, chronic inflammatory skin conditions, and complications from radiation, burns, scars, vaccinations, or tattoos. There are also rare genetic conditions that may contribute to skin cancer growth. Anyone can be at risk, but those with fair skin, blonde/red hair colors, and blue/green/grey eyes tend to have more issues.

Treatment Options

Treatment depends on how extensive it is and the condition of the patient. Curettage and electrodessication is one treatment for small lesions where the growth is cauterized (burned) and scraped off. Cryosurgery (freezing), radiation, photodynamic therapy, laser surgery, and topical chemotherapy are other possibilities. Each of these treatments has advantages and disadvantages. Our preferred method for treatment of most skin cancers is surgical removal under local anesthesia. Cutting a skin cancer out gives the best cure rate and also allows for the edges to be checked under a microscope to ensure complete removal. Mohs surgery is our first choice for most skin cancers on the face, cosmetically sensitive areas, and for more aggressive cancers. This layer by layer method of removal maximizes preservation normal healthy tissue surrounding the cancer, but also ensures the highest cure rates, approximately 99% for most basal cell cancers. After removal, we often recommend stitches, skin grafts or skin flaps to provide the quickest and most cosmetically appealing outcome. For smaller, simpler skin cancers on the body and limbs we usually recommend traditional excisional surgery where the whole growth is removed and stitched at once. ~

Editor’s Note: This article was submitted by Skin Cancer Consultants.

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