The most common form of nonmelanoma skin cancer in the United States is Basal Cell carcinoma (BCCa). This type of skin cancer is considered slow-growing and does not metastasize (spread) and does not travel to the bloodstream. Instead, BCCa infiltrates the surrounding tissue and continues to destroy the tissue until removed. To prevent damage to the skin and eventually bone, BCCa should be surgically removed. Treating BCCa is possible with early detection. Risk factors for skin cancer include being a person who easily burns in the sun, a person who is fair-skinned, has light colored eyes or hair, or those who have a history of skin cancer in their family. Prompt attention and treatment should be taken if BCCa is suspected. Generally, BCCa are found on areas of the body that receive the most sun exposure or other form of UV radiation - scalp, face, ears, chest, back, arms, and legs.
- A small bump with pearly or waxy skin color, usually dome-shaped
- A non-healing or recurring red patch that bleeds or flakes, heals, and then returns
- A pimple-like growth that either heals and returns or never disappears
- A scar-like sore without having injured that area
- A bump that is white, light pink, flesh colored, or brown
If any bump or lesion is suspicious, a visit to ta physician can determine if it is a BCCa. A biopsy will be taken and sent to a pathologist for examination under a microscope for diagnosis. Once a diagnosis is made, your physician will come up with a treatment plan. If the lesion appears small enough, the physician may remove the growth and some surrounding tissue. The entire sample would then be sent to the lab to confirm that all the cancer has been removed. If cancer is still present in the surrounding tissue, further excision would be necessary.
Another method of excision is Mohs micrographic surgery. Commonly used on areas of the body where preserving healthy skin is crucial for functional as well as cosmetic reasons - face, ears, nose, or lips. It is also performed on those with recurring skin cancers. Mohs micrographic surgery is a technique where thin layers (levels) of the growth and surrounding tissue are removed and examined under a microscope. The process continues one level at a time until all cancer is removed which helps minimize the amount of tissue removed.
Other methods of treatment include cyrotherapy - freezing the growth with liquid nitrogen, topical chemotherapy - cream or ointment applied for a prescribed amount of time directly to the growth and surrounding tissue, or radiation treatment for lesions that cannot be removed surgically.
Q: What happens if a Basal Cell carcinoma is left untreated?
A: While BCCa rarely spreads throughout your body, if left untreated, there is the possibility of the cancer spreading to surrounding tissue and bone. There is an increased risk of causing permanent structural damage if left untreated. Early detection and prompt action are key in proper treatment of Basal Cell carcinoma.
Q: Is it possible to reduce my risk of developing Basal Cell carcinoma?
A: Sun Protection - Applying and re-applying every 2 hours or after being in the water or sweating. Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen preventing from both UVA and UVB rays with an SPF of 30 or greater. Try to stay out of the sun during the hours of 10am and 4pm when the sun’s rays are strongest, or wear protective clothing when out during that time. Self-examination - Every month a self-exam with a mirror will help you discover any new or changing growth. If something looks suspicious, have a physician take a look.
Q: If I am diagnosed with BCCa, what are my treatment options?
A: Depending on the size, location, and depth of the Basal Cell carcinoma the physician will offer different treatment options. Topical Chemotherapy, cryotherapy, curettage & desiccation (C&D), excisional biopsy, or Mohs micrographic surgery followed by reconstruction to close the defect.