Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of cancer worldwide. The vast majority of cases are thought to be caused by exposure to harmful rays from the sun. It is becoming more common, perhaps because of the behaviors of tanning and outdoor activities. It may also be that the decrease in the ozone layer is allowing more ultraviolet radiation from the sun to reach the earth's surface. Basal cell cancer does not usually spread internally rather it infiltrates the surrounding skin and destroys tissue. For this reason, basal cell cancer should be treated promptly by your dermatologist.
Basal cell cancer most often appears on sun-exposed areas such as the face, scalp, ears, chest, back, and legs. These tumors can have several different forms but the most common appearance is that of a small dome-shaped bump that has a pearly color. Tiny blood vessels may be seen on the surface. Basal cell cancer can also appear as a pimple-like growth that heals, only to come back again and again. An uncommon form called morpheaform looks like a smooth white or yellowish waxy scar. Superficial basal cell cancer on the trunk may look like a stable or slowly growing scaly red patch. A typical history of basal cell cancer is a sore that bleeds, heals up, only to recur again.
If you have a sore that doesn't heal, you should make an appointment with your dermatologist for evaluation. After the dermatologist examines the growth, he or she may perform a biopsy. A biopsy is a simple procedure done in the office under local anesthesia. After numbing the area with lidocaine, a small sample of the lesion is removed. A bandage is placed on the wound and you will receive instructions on how to care for the wound. The area will heal over five to seven days. The biopsy results will indicate whether or not you have a basal cell cancer and what kind basal cell cancer it is. Your dermatologist will discuss your various options should your growth prove to be a basal cell cancer. These included surgical procedures, radiation, and other novel approaches that may be indicated for your situation.
Some people wonder whether it is worth treating basal cell cancer at all since it doesn't spread internally. It is important to remember that basal cell cancer is in fact a cancer, and will continue to grow locally unless treated, sometimes developing into a non-healing would or affecting nearby structures such as the eye, ear or nose.
If you have already had one basal cell cancer you have a 40% risk of getting a second basal cell cancer within five years. It is important to be seen regularly by your dermatologist as well as monitoring yourself. Individuals who have had multiple basal cell cancers or other skin cancers, such as squamous cell, are at an increased risk for melanoma as well. It is important to have a full body skin examination at least once a year to check for abnormal moles which could be precursors to melanoma or melanoma itself. Because basal cell cancer is caused mainly by sunlight from a lifetime of exposure, proper sun protection may help to prevent the development of further basal cell cancers. Because 85% of lifetime sun exposure is acquired in childhood by age 18, careful sun protection in children may effectively prevent basal cell cancer later in life.
- Apply sunscreen with a sun protection factor of 15 or greater while outdoors and reapply every 1 hour.
- Wear a broad-brimmed hat and sun protective clothing
- Avoid the sun between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m.