Basal Cell Carcinoma: Causes, Symptoms, Treatments

Did you know that basal cell carcinoma is the most common kind of cancer in America? Hundreds of thousands of people are diagnosed with it every year and while highly treatable, it can ravage your skin and even cause disfiguration if not treated properly. Be sure you know how to detect and deal with signs of this skin cancer.

Risk Factors

As with most skin cancers, basal cell carcinoma tends to appear on body parts routinely exposed to sun such as the face, neck, shoulders, and scalp. Until recently, most cases occurred in the older population, but nowadays the number of sufferers in their thirties, twenties, and even teens is on the rise. So it's important to examine your skin, especially if you:

  • Have fair skin, blonde or red hair, and light-colored eyes
  • Are often exposed to the sun or have had several sunburns
  • Suffer from other skin conditions such as burns, scars, or infections
  • Have tattoos
  • Were exposed to radiation
  • Work outdoors
  • Have a history of skin cancer

Warning Signs

Visit a dermatologist if you experience any of the following, especially if you have a questionable spot that demonstrates two or more of the following conditions:

  • A reddish patch that might itch or hurt
  • An open sore that won't heal
  • A pink growth with an indented center and raised border
  • A bump or nodule that's shiny, pearly, or translucent. It can be many different colors and look like a mole.
  • A white or yellow scar-like area with poorly defined borders

Basal cell carcinoma can sometimes appear similar to skin conditions like eczema or psoriasis. If you have a new outbreak of this, be sure to get it checked out by a doctor.


The difficulty of treating basal cell carcinoma depends on its stage and size. They are often simply removed, leaving a barely noticeable scar. Typically, doctors will first biopsy a suspicious area by taking a small sample of it. If the biopsy is positive for basal cell carcinoma, they may consider one of the following removal options that can be performed under a local anesthetic or with no anesthesia at all:

  • Topical Medications like Imiquimod or 5-Fluorouracil are usually 80-90 percent effective at shrinking tumors.
  • Moh's Micrographic Surgery or Excisional Surgery. The growth is removed with a scalpel along with some surrounding tissue.
  • Curettage and Electrodessication. The growth is removed with a ring-shaped instrument and a heated needle destroys the rest of the tumor.

While treating these carcinomas is usually simple, it may not be permanent. So it's important to keep a close eye on former carcinoma sites as well as take precautionary measures to minimize the risk of reoccurrence.


Following common sense sun protection will help prevent basal cell carcinomas from taking root:

  • Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or greater every day.
  • When you're going to be in the sun, apply two tablespoons of sunscreen to your body 30 minutes before going outside. Reapply ever two hours or immediately after swimming or sweating
  • Protect your scalp with a hat
  • Avoid tanning and tanning booths
  • Don't allow your skin to burn
  • Check your skin for moles and spots monthly
  • Get an annual dermatologist check-up



Source: "Skin Cancer: Signs and Symptoms." Skin Cancer Foundation. Web. 2011