Basal Cell Carcinoma

What is basal cell carcinoma?

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is a common skin cancer. Cancer occurs when cells grow without control or order. BCC begins in the epidermis (top layer of the skin). The cancer cells form a tumor. BCC grows slowly and rarely spreads.

What increases my risk of basal cell carcinoma?

  • Ultraviolet (UV) rays in sunlight or tanning beds: You have a higher risk if you spend a lot of time outdoors without sun protection or use tanning beds. The risk is also higher if you were exposed to the sun a lot as a child.

  • Fair skin: The cancer is most common in people with light skin that burns instead of tans.

  • Age over 40: This cancer is usually found in older people, but it is becoming more common in younger people.

  • Other skin cancers or radiation treatments: Your risk is higher if you have had skin cancer before. Radiation treatments for any kind of cancer increase your risk for skin cancer.

  • Male gender: BCC happens twice as often in men. This may be because men spend more time outdoors.

What are the signs of basal cell carcinoma?

BCC usually forms on skin that has been exposed to the sun. Tumors on the head, ears, nose, and neck are common. Most tumors are not painful. The following are common signs of a BCC:

  • Shiny, waxy, pale or pink bumps or growths that may have blood vessels on the surface

  • Red, scaly patches

  • Open sores that may bleed and do not heal

How is basal cell carcinoma diagnosed?

Your caregiver will ask when you first saw the growth. He will ask if the size, color, or shape have changed since you first saw it. He will look over the rest of your skin for other growths. He will ask about your family history of skin cancer, your past sunburns, and the time you spend in the sun or in tanning beds. You may also need the following:

  • Biopsy: Your caregiver removes a part of the growth to be tested for cancer cells. Your caregiver will numb your skin with a shot of local anesthetic. He will shave a thin piece off the top or cut into the skin to remove a piece of the tumor.

How is basal cell carcinoma treated?

Treatment depends on your cancer, the area affected, and any other health conditions you may have. Treatments may include:

  • Surgery: Surgery is the most common treatment. Your caregiver numbs the skin and removes the tumor. He may look at the tissue pieces with a microscope to make sure all of the cancer cells are removed. He may use an electric needle to burn off cancer cells. He may freeze the tumor with a chemical called liquid nitrogen.

  • Skin medicines: Your caregiver may put medicines on your skin to help remove the cancer. This includes medicines that kill the cancer cells directly or help your immune system to attack the cancer cells

  • Radiation: You may need radiation treatment if you cannot have surgery, are older, or have a large tumor. Radiation therapy uses special x-rays to kill the cancer cells.

How do I care for my wound after biopsy or treatment?

You may have an open wound or stitches after your skin biopsy or treatment. Ask your caregiver how to care for your wound. You may need to have the stitches removed after the skin starts to heal.

What can I do to help prevent new skin cancers?

  • Follow up with your caregiver as directed: You may need to see your caregiver every few months. Ask how often you need to be checked.

  • Do a body check once a month: Look for new growths or sores. Check for changes in the size, shape, or color of your moles and freckles. Look for sores that do not heal. Use a mirror to check places that are hard to see. Ask family members or friends to help.

  • Protect your skin from UV light: Avoid the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the rays are strongest. If you are outside, apply sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or more every 2 hours. Do this even on cloudy days. Wear pants and long sleeves to cover your body. Hats with a wide brim can protect your face, head, and neck. Wear sunglasses that block 99% of UV rays. Avoid tanning beds.

What are the risks of basal cell carcinoma?

  • A biopsy or surgery can create scars. Your treated skin may be lighter than normal after it heals. Skin may be red, dry, and sore after radiation treatment. Chemotherapy may cause nausea, vomiting, and hair loss. You may need skin grafts or reconstructive surgery after treatment for large cancers. BCC could come back, or you could get a new skin cancer.

  • Without treatment, BCC can spread to surrounding tissues and grow into your muscles and bones.

Where can I find support and information?

  • American Cancer Society
    250 Williams Street
    Atlanta , GA 30303
    Phone: 1- 800 - 227-2345
    Web Address: http://www.cancer.org
  • The Skin Cancer Foundation
    149 Madison Avenue, Suite 901
    New York , NY 10016
    Phone: 1- 212 - 725-5176
    Web Address: www.skincancer.org

When should I contact my caregiver?

  • You have a fever.

  • Your biopsy or surgical wound is painful, red, and swollen.

  • You have a sore that has not healed within 2 months.

  • You see new growths on your skin.

  • The size, shape, or color of a mole or freckle has changed.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2014 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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