Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of nonmelanoma skin cancer, with approximately one million cases diagnosed annually (1). Basal cell carcinoma is a generally non-lethal form of skin tumor, but if ignored, can cause damage to surrounding tissue (2). Like most forms skin tumors, the leading cause of basal cell carcinoma is over-exposure to UV radiation. Damage to the basal cell layer (hence the name) can cause cumulative DNA damage, mutations and depression to the localized immune system. Mutation to the basal cells can cause development of a tumor from unregulated growth. Basal cell carcinoma can also develop from Gorlin’s syndrome.
Like most skin cancers, identifying basal cell carcinoma is not easy, but there are certain signs to watch out for. The appearance of reoccurring sores that do not heal or bleed is a generalized sign of skin cancer. Small waxy or pearly white bumps, which may be veinous, appearing on the face, neck, or ears can be a sign of basal cell carcinoma (2). The color of the bumps depends on one’s skin tone, and may appear brown or black for darker skinned individuals. Over time, the bump may start to bleed and then develop a depression in the center, or start to crust over. On rare occasions, there may develop a white, waxy scar on sun exposed body parts. This may indicate morpheaform basal cell carcinoma, an invasive form of basal cell carcinoma. Finally, scaly, flat flesh colored patches or discolorations appearing on the chest can be an indication of basal cell carcinoma.
There are a variety of treatments for basal cell carcinoma, depending on the severity of the cancer. Small tumors (less than six mm) can be treated using electrodessication and curettage. This method destroys the tumor with an electrocautery. Following electrocution, the curette is used to scrap away remaining cancer cells. The method requires using the electrocautery and then a curette to scrape the area several times, and may produce scar tissue (3). For larger tumors (greater than two cm), surgerical excision may be a more viable option. Cyrosurgery can be used to freeze and kill cancer cells. Use of this treatment should be avoided to sensitive areas of the skin as freezing can cause skin damage. Perhaps the most successful method of surgery, Mohs surgery, involves excising small dermal layers and testing each under a microscope to verify cancerous cells. This surgery has the lowest rate of cancer reoccurance, 1 percent, as compared to 10 percent for other methods (3).
As basal cell carcinoma is a generally nonlethal form of skin cancer, early treatment and detection are important. If you notice any signs, talk to your doctor as soon as possible.