Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment for Basal Cell Carcinoma
Basal cell carcinoma — just the words alone may make you nervous. We understand. Any type of cancer will surely cause concern.
Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer, but it is also a type of skin cancer that can be curable and may cause minimal damage when diagnosed and treated early.
If you are concerned that you or someone you love may have basal cell carcinoma, this guide will help you understand what basal cell carcinoma is and how it is diagnosed, along with its:
- Symptoms; and
Table of Contents
What Is Basal Cell Carcinoma?
Basal cell carcinoma is a type of skin cancer involving changes in basal cells — a type of cell in the top layer of the skin, which sheds as new cells are formed.
Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is most often due to DNA damage because of ultraviolet radiation exposure from the sun or indoor tanning. This DNA damage stimulates changes in basal cells, which results in rapid growth.
Four main types of basal cell carcinoma include:
- Superficial spreading
- Sclerosing (morpheaform)
This common type of skin cancer causes a bump or lesion on the top of the skin — usually in areas that get a lot of sun exposure. BCC lesions and bumps can appear differently from person to person, so it’s important to see a medical professional (dermatologist) for an accurate diagnosis. When caught early, BCC can be highly treatable.
If you live in the Portland metro area and are concerned about bumps on your skin that may be basal cell carcinoma, the professionals at Goodskin Dermatology have the knowledge and experience to diagnose and treat any skin conditions you may be experiencing. Schedule an appointment today.
What Are the Symptoms of Basal Cell Carcinoma?
Basal cell carcinomas are most commonly found on the following areas of skin that are exposed to the sun:
Basal cell carcinomas appear on the skin as lesions, bumps, pimples, or lumps that may:
- Be translucent and similar to the normal skin color, or:
- White to pink
- Black to blue; or
- Brown to black
- Have a shiny appearance compared to the skin around them
- Have tiny, visible blood vessels
- Slowly grow over time
- Be painful or itchy
- Be ulcer-like and ooze
- Bleed with contact
What Are Some Basal Cell Carcinoma Warning Signs To Be Aware of?
There are numerous skin conditions people experience. Some may be benign and harmless and require no treatment, while others may be cancerous or troublesome in another way and require treatment.
If you’re concerned that a skin condition you’re experiencing may be basal cell carcinoma, look for the following warning signs:
- Open sores that may last for weeks or may seem to heal only to return
- Open sores that do not heal and bleed or ooze
- A patch that is red and/or irritated that hurts, crusts, or itches and is found on the chest, shoulder, leg, arm, or face
- A clear, pink, red, or white bump that is shiny
- A bump that is tan, brown, or black, often mistaken for a mole
- A small, raised, pink growth with a crusted dent in the center that may develop tiny blood vessels over time
- A flat, white, or yellow scar-like area that is shiny and taut and lacks defined borders
What Causes Basal Cell Carcinoma?
Damage and changes in DNA cause basal cell carcinoma, and this damage is most often due to long-term exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. Staying out of the sun and using sunscreen may offer some protection against basal cell carcinoma. Tanning beds may also be a source of harmful UV radiation.
When changes in DNA occur, basal cells make too many cells, resulting in lumps or lesions on the epidermis (outer layer of skin).
Another rare cause of basal cell carcinoma in children is called Gorlin’s syndrome or basal cell nevus syndrome. This is a hereditary disease that may also be combined with skeletal, ophthalmic, or neurological abnormalities.
In addition to the causes mentioned above, the following risk factors of BCC are important to be aware of.
Over 3 million people are diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma each year, and the majority of people are diagnosed between the ages of 50 and 80. Even though the development of BCC is more common as we age, basal cell carcinomas can also occur in people as young as 20 years old.
Skin cancer can develop in people of any skin tone, but those with fair skin are at a greater risk of developing basal cell carcinoma. That increased risk is also true for those with blond or red hair, blue, green, or gray eyes, or with skin that burns or freckles easily.
No matter your skin type, the American Association of Dermatology (ADD) suggests using a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 daily.
Though more women are developing basal cell carcinoma than in the past, more men get basal cell carcinoma than women. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, of those diagnosed with two to five BCCs, 62% are men. And of those with six or more, 80% are men.
How Is Basal Cell Carcinoma Diagnosed?
A dermatologist will perform a thorough exam to diagnose basal cell carcinoma, which may include:
- Gathering information about the patient’s history
- A physical exam; and
The two most common tests doctors use to diagnose basal cell carcinoma are:
- Skin biopsies – A doctor will remove a portion of the affected skin to examine under a microscope.
- Imaging tests – Though it is rare for basal carcinoma to spread, a healthcare provider may suggest tests like an MRI or CT scan if they believe the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, like the lymph nodes or other organs.
How Is Basal Cell Carcinoma Treated?
Treatment for basal cell carcinoma may vary depending on severity, cause, and a variety of other factors. Because treatments may vary from patient to patient, you should always consult with your healthcare provider to learn which treatment is recommended.
A healthcare provider may suggest one or more of the following common basal cell carcinoma treatments.
Curettage and Electrodesiccation
For patients with small basal cell carcinoma lesions, this may be an effective treatment and has cure rates near 95%.
This procedure involves using a sharp instrument with a ring-shaped tip (a curette) to scrape off the basal cell carcinoma. The electrodesiccation is then performed by using heat to destroy the remaining cancer cells and seal the wound. The curettage and electrodesiccation may leave a round, white scar.
Mohs surgery is a procedure done in stages to remove cancerous tissue. The doctor begins by removing the tumor and a minimal amount of tissue around and beneath the tumor. The surgeon then examines the tissue to see if any cancer cells remain, repeating the procedure until no more cancer is evident. The wound may be closed up or left to heal on its own.
Mohs surgery is considered to be a highly effective procedure for removing BCCs located around the eyes, nose, ears, scalp, fingers, and toes. This treatment may also be recommended for aggressive tumors or those that have recurred.
Like curettage and electrodesiccation, excisional surgery has a high — 95% — cure rate. It is often the “go-to” treatment for small BCCs that have not spread.
In excisional surgery, the surgeon removes the tumor and some surrounding tissue using a scalpel. The tissue is then sent to a lab for testing. If cancer cells are found in the surrounding tissue that was removed, more surgery may be required to remove more tissue until the margins are free of cancer cells.
Low-energy X-ray beams are used to destroy BCC tumors and may require several treatments. This treatment doesn’t require anesthesia or incisions and is usually reserved for elderly patients or for cancers that are difficult to treat with surgery. It may also be used after surgery to help treat advanced BCC cases.
Photodynamic therapy is an effective treatment for superficial BCCS but is not a recommended treatment for BCCs that are deep and invasive.
Photodynamic therapy is performed by applying a topical agent on the lesion or injecting the lesion with the agent. The agent makes the lesion sensitive to light. After the agent has had time to absorb, the dermatologist uses a special blue light or laser to destroy the BCC. Because the medication used can cause severe sunburn, patients must be very careful to avoid sun and UV exposure for at least 48 hours.
Cryosurgery, commonly known as freezing, is another common treatment for superficial BCCs. It may also be used for patients with bleeding problems. It usually isn’t used for invasive tumors because it may not reach the deeper parts of the tumor.
To perform cryosurgery, the dermatologist uses an applicator to apply liquid nitrogen to freeze the tumor.
Creams or gels may be used directly on the superficial BCCs.
Medications that may be used topically include:
- 5-fluorouracil (5-FU) (Efudex®, Carac®, Fluoroplex®, Tolak®) – Works by stimulating the immune system to attack the cancerous cells
- Imiquimod (Aldara®, Zyclara®) – Works as a topical chemotherapy to kill cancerous cells
Goodskin Dermatology Provides High-Quality, Patient-Based Care for Basal Cell Carcinoma
If you are concerned about suspicious lesions on your skin, the team at Goodskin Dermatology is here to help find an accurate diagnosis and recommend the most appropriate treatment.
We want you to experience exceptional results. That’s why we combine the latest technologies and our expert knowledge and experience to provide individualized care tailored to your specific needs and goals.
Whether you’re concerned about a possible basal cell carcinoma or are struggling with another common skin condition like acne, we are here to offer our expertise and tools to treat your condition in an environment that is stress-free and comfortable.
Schedule an appointment with Goodskin Dermatology today by calling or visiting us online to get the skin you’ve always dreamed of.
The content in this blog should not be used in place of direct medical advice/treatment and is solely for informational purposes.