This is the most common form of skin cancer. Basal cells reside in the deepest layer of the epidermis, along with hair follicles and sweat ducts. When a person is overexposed to UVB radiation, it damages the body’s natural repair system, which causes basal cell carcinomas to grow. These tend to be slow-growing tumors and rarely metastasize (spread). Basal cell carcinomas can present in a number of different ways:
- raised pink or pearly white bump with a pearly edge and small, visible blood vessels
- pigmented bumps that look like moles with a pearly edge
- a sore that continuously heals and re-opens
- flat scaly scar with a waxy appearance and blurred edges
Despite the different appearances of the cancer, they all tend to bleed with little or no cause. Eighty-five percent of basal cell carcinomas occur on the face and neck since these are areas that are most exposed to the sun.
Risk factors for basal cell carcinoma include having fair skin, sun exposure, age (most skin cancers occur after age 50), exposure to ultraviolet radiation (as in tanning beds) and therapeutic radiation given to treat an unrelated health issue.
Diagnosing basal cell carcinoma requires a biopsy — either excisional, where the entire tumor is removed along with some of the surrounding tissue, or incisional, where only a part of the tumor is removed (used primarily for large lesions).
Treatments for basal cell carcinoma include:
- Cryosurgery — Some basal cell carcinomas respond to cryosurgery, where liquid nitrogen is used to freeze off the tumor.
- Curettage and Desiccation — The preferred method of dermatologists, this treatment involves using a small metal instrument (called a curette) to scrape out the tumor along with an application of an electric current into the tissue to kill off any remaining cancer cells.
- Mohs Micrographic Surgery — The preferred method for large tumors, Mohs Micrographic Surgery combines removal of cancerous tissue with microscopic review while the surgery takes place. By mapping the diseased tissue layer by layer, less healthy skin is damaged when removing the tumor.
- Prescription Medicated Creams — These creams can be applied at home. They stimulate the body’s natural immune system over the course of weeks.
- Radiation Therapy — Radiation therapy is used for difficult-to-treat tumors, either because of their location, severity or persistence.
- Surgical Excision — In this treatment the tumor is surgically removed and stitched up.