Madeline Vann, MPH
Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer. This cancer usually grows slowly and rarely spreads to other tissues in the body.
Basal cell carcinoma is rarely fatal, but it can cause damage to the nearby tissue. If there is risk of damage, the cancer may need treatment or removal.
Cancer occurs when cells in the body divide without control or order. Eventually these uncontrolled cells form a growth or tumor. The growths invade and take over nearby tissue. It is not clear exactly what causes these problems in the cells, but is probably a combination of genetics and environment.
Areas of skin that are damaged have a higher risk of cancer. Skin that is regularly exposed to the sun is most likely to develop skin cancer. Basal cell carcinoma may also develop in skin that has scars, burns, or inflammatory skin diseases.
Factors that increase the risk of developing basal cell carcinoma include:
Symptoms of basal cell carcinoma include:
The doctor will ask about symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. This includes a thorough examination of the skin and any skin lesions.
Samples of skin lesions can be biopsied and examined under a microscope for the presence of cancer. A biopsy will also help determine the stage and type of the cancer if it is present.
The information will be used to guide treatment and make a prognosis.
Treatment options include:
If surgery is not an option, treatment may involve:
To reduce the chance of basal cell carcinoma:
American Academy of Dermatology
Skin Cancer Foundation
Canadian Cancer Society
Canadian Dermatology Association
Alberta Provincial Cutaneous Tumour Team. Prevention of skin cancer. Edmonton (Alberta): CancerControl Alberta; 2013 Feb. 27 p. (Clinical practice guideline; no. CU-014). Available at: http://www.guideline.gov/content.aspx?id=48130#Section420. Accessed February 24, 2015.
Basal cell carcinoma. American Academy of Dermatology website. Available at:
https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/skin-cancer/basal-cell-carcinoma. Accessed February 24, 2015.
Basal cell carcinoma of the skin. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:
http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T113813/Basal-cell-carcinoma-of-the-skin. Updated July 24, 2016. Accessed September 28, 2016.
Saraiya M, Glanz K, Briss P, et al. Preventing skin cancer.
Sunscreen FAQs. American Academy of Dermatology website. Available at: https://www.aad.org/media/stats/prevention-and-care/sunscreen-faqs. Accessed February 24, 2015.
Wong C, Strange R, Lear JT. Basal cell carcinoma.
Last reviewed March 2016 by James Cornell, MD
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