What is Basal Cell Carcinoma?
Basal cell carcinoma is a type of skin cancer. Basal cell carcinoma begins in the basal cells — a type of cell within the skin that produces new skin cells as old ones die off.
Basal cell carcinoma often appears as a slightly transparent bump on the skin, though it can take other forms. Basal cell carcinoma occurs most often on areas of the skin that are exposed to the sun, such as your head and neck.
Basal cell carcinoma appears as a change in the skin, such as a growth or a sore that won’t heal. These changes in the skin, or lesions, usually have one of the following characteristics:
- A pearly white, skin-colored or pink bump that is translucent, meaning you can see a bit through the surface. Tiny blood vessels are often visible. In people with darker skin tones, the lesion would be darker but still somewhat translucent. The most common type of basal cell carcinoma, this lesion often appears on the face, ears or neck. The lesion may rupture, bleed and scab over.
- A brown, black or blue lesion — or a lesion with dark spots — with a slightly raised, translucent border.
- A flat, scaly, reddish patch with a raised edge is more common on the back or chest. Over time, these patches can grow quite large.
- A white, waxy, scar-like lesion without a clearly defined border, called morpheaform basal cell carcinoma, is the least common. This lesion is easy to overlook, but it may be a sign of a particularly invasive and disfiguring cancer.
Treating Basal Cell Carcinoma
Several types of treatment can be used to remove or destroy basal cell skin cancers. The options depend on factors such as the tumor size and location, and a person’s age, general health, and preferences. These cancers very rarely spread to other parts of the body, although they can grow into nearby tissues if not treated.
All of the treatments listed here can be effective. The chance of the cancer coming back (recurring) ranges from less than 5% after Mohs surgery to up to 15% or higher after some of the others, but this depends on the size of the tumor. Small tumors are less likely to recur than larger ones. Even if a tumor does recur, it can often still be treated effectively.
Treatment types include surgery, radiation therapy, topical chemotherapy and cryotherapy.