What is Basal Cell Carcinoma?
The most common cancer in humans, Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC) develops in more than 1 million people every year in the United States alone. About 80% of all skin cancers are BCC, a cancer that develops in the "basal cells," or skin cells located in the lowest layer of the epidermis.
BCC can take several forms. It can appear as a shiny translucent or pearly nodule; a sore that continuously heals and then re-opens; a pink slightly elevated growth; reddish irritated patches of skin; or a waxy scar. Most BCCs appear on skin that frequently receives exposure to the sun, such as the face, ears, scalp and upper trunk. These tumors tend to grow slowly and can take years to reach ½ inch in size. While these tumors very rarely metastasize (when the cancer spreads to other parts of the body), dermatologists encourage early diagnosis and treatment to prevent extensive damage to surrounding tissue.
What Causes Basal Cell Carcinoma?
Repeated, prolonged sun exposure causes skin damage, which may develop into basal cell carcinoma.
The sun damage responsible for a basal cell carcinoma usually occurred years before the cancer begins.
Basal cell carcinomas are most common on the face because the face receives more sunlight than other parts of the body.
Fair-skinned individuals are more prone to skin cancer than darker persons, since skin pigment protects the skin. Persons of African ancestry with very dark skin practically never get basal cell carcinoma.
People who get one basal cell carcinoma are likely to develop more. Often people will develop a second basal cell carcinoma close to the spot were one has been treated because the surrounding skin is just as damaged by the sun as the skin where the first basal cell carcinoma grew.
We cannot be sure whether a suspicious growth is a basal cell carcinoma just by looking at it. In order to be sure, we must take a small piece of the growth and send it for microscopic analysis (biopsy). The skin will often heal after a biopsy. This is because the skin grows over the cancer like a blanket.
After a biopsy has been done, if a basal cell carcinoma is found by the pathologist, the tumor needs to be removed. Basal cell carcinomas are not cured by doing a biopsy - further surgery is required. Surgery always leaves a scar. There is no way to remove a basal cell carcinoma without leaving a scar, but often the scar can be hidden in the skin folds. Basal cell carcinomas are often much bigger under the skin then they appear on the surface. What one can see on the surface is only the tip of the iceberg. That is why the hole left after removing a basal cell cancer is often much larger than what can be seen before surgery.
The most important point about skin cancer is that it needs to be completely removed. Many people have lost body parts because of these tumors and some people have lost their lives.