Basal Cell Carcinoma



The most common cancer

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common form of skin cancer, affecting about 800,000 Americans each year.  In fact, it is the most common of all cancers.  The vast majority of new skin cancers are basal cell carcinomas.  These cancers arise in the basal cells, which are at the bottom of the epidermis (outer skin layer). 

The major cause

Chronic exposure to the sunlight is the cause of almost all basal cell carcinomas, which occur most frequently on exposed parts of the body—the face, ears, neck, scalp, shoulders, and back.  Rarely, however, tumors develop on non-exposed areas.  In a few cases, contact with arsenic, exposure to radiation, and complications of burns, scars, vaccinations, or even tattoos are contributing factors.

Who gets it

While anyone with a history of sun exposure can develop basal cell carcinoma, people who are at highest risk have fair skin, blonde or red hair, and blue, green, or grey eyes.  Workers in occupations that require long hours outdoors and people who spend their leisure time in the sun are particularly susceptible.  Geographic location is also a factor - the closer to the equator, the higher the number of cases, particularly among fair-skinned individuals. The disease is rarely seen in children, but occasionally a teenager is affected.  Skin specialists report that more and more people in their twenties and thirties are being treated for skin cancer.

What to look for

The five most typical characteristics of basal cell carcinoma are an open sore, a reddish patch, a pink growth, a shiny bump, or a scar-like area.  Frequently, two or more features are present in one tumor.  Only a trained provider, usually a specialist in diseases of the skin, can decide for sure.  Examine your skin regularly - as often as once a month - if you are at high risk.  Be sure to include the scalp, backs of ears, neck, and other hard-to-see areas.  (A full-length mirror and a hand-held mirror can be very useful.)  If you observe any of the warning signs or some other change in your skin, consult our office immediately.  The Skin Cancer Foundation advises people to have a total body skin exam by a qualified skin specialist at regular intervals.  The physician will suggest the correct time frame for follow-up visits, depending on your specific risk factors, such as skin type and history of sun exposure.