Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is a slow-growing skin cancer and the most common form of cancer in the United States. The cancer starts within the outermost layer of skin, typically in areas with prolonged exposure to ultraviolet radiation from sunlight or tanning beds. Signs of BCC include skin lesions that are different in appearance, color, size, or texture than the surrounding skin. The lesion may also be painful, swollen, itchy, or bleed. The most common location where BCC is found is on the head or neck.
In the United States, there are about 800,000 new cases of BCC each year. Living in areas close to the equator, at high altitudes, or in regions with a depleted ozone increases the risk of skin damage and BCC. Risk factors for developing BCC are being over age 40, freckled skin, eye colors other than brown, blonde or red hair, a family history of skin cancer, and having previous severe sunburns. About 30% of Caucasians develop BCC in their lifetime.
When testing for BCC, a doctor will remove a piece of skin to be examined. Treatments include cutting or killing affected skin cells, applying medicated creams, and light therapy. Mohs surgery is an effective surgery for skin cancer in which a small area of the skin is removed layer-by-layer and examined until a layer without cancer is found. For BCC that cannot be treated by surgery, radiation or chemotherapy may be used.
Routine skin examinations are important in order to detect BCC early. Early treatment reduces the chances of the cancer spreading to other areas, including other organs. Certain aggressive types of BCC may be lethal if undetected. Avoiding prolonged exposure to sunlight and wearing sunscreen can help prevent BCC. If you have been diagnosed with BCC, talk to your doctor about the most current treatment options.