What is Basal Cell Carcinoma?

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  • Written By: J. Beam
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 17 January 2019
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Basal cell carcinoma is the most frequently diagnosed cancer of the skin. Affecting roughly 20% of Americans each year, it is usually caused by prolonged exposure to the sun or ultra-violet rays without protection. The most common sites where this skin cancer develops are the face and neck, followed by other parts of the body that are regularly exposed to the sun, like the hands and arms. It is easily detected and most often can be successfully treated.

The appearance of basal cell carcinoma is not consistent. It may appear as a red blotchy mark, smooth and yellowish, or even scaly or bumpy. Sometimes, the cancer appears as a small wound that doesn’t scab and heal. Usually, a medical professional must perform a biopsy on the area to determine if it is cancerous. Routine self-examination of an area for changes or growth is the best way to keep an eye on things a healthcare provider might need to check.


Though basal cell carcinoma is most often caused by exposure to the sun and UV rays, other factors can contribute to its development, including family history and heredity. The treatment for this and the other types of skin cancer, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma, vary based on the type, the location, and the size. Basal cell carcinoma is not as serious as the other types of skin cancer and rarely metastasizes, but it can cause extensive damage to the skin if it goes untreated.

Small carcinomas can be treated by curettage and electrodessication. This involves removing the cancerous tissue and burning the surrounding area to destroy it. Surgical excision and cryosurgery are also sometimes used in treatment to remove the cancer. Larger areas or recurring problems may be treated with skin grafting, radiation, or a more specific micrographic surgery.

Once a person has developed basal cell carcinoma, his or her chances of redeveloping skin cancer increase by 50%. Early detection increases the chances for successful treatment, and prevention is key to avoiding any type of skin cancer. People should always wear a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15, and most people don’t worry about SPF higher than 30 — it all offers the same protection factor.



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