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Medical Dermatology

Basal Cell

What are the facts about basal cell carcinoma?

Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer. It is estimated that if affects 800,000 Americans a year. This lesion arises from the basal cell, which is at the bottom of the epidermis (outer skin layer). Formerly the most affected group was those of older age, however, the age of onset is steadily decreasing. Chronic exposure to the sun is the overwhelming factor in the development of this lesion. Those at highest risk are those with fair skin, blonde or red hair, and blue, green or grey eyes and individuals whose work or recreation places them in the sunlight for extended periods of time on a routine basis. Basal cell carcinomas can resemble non-cancerous conditions such as eczema or psoriasis. A dermatologist can determine which condition actually exists.

What are warning signs of a basal cell carcinoma?

The following conditions may signal the presence of a basal cell carcinoma:

  • A red patch often seen on the arms, legs, chest and shoulders that may become irritated, itchy or crusted.
  • A pinkish growth with elevated border, a crusted indentation in the center.
  • A shiny bump that can be many colors from red, pink and white to tan, black or brown.
  • An open sore that bleeds oozes and crusts. A non-healing sore is a very common sign of a basal cell carcinoma.
  • A scar like lesion that is white, yellow or waxy appearing with poorly defined borders.

If you observe any of the above, or any other skin lesion that you are concerned about, consult with your dermatologist as soon as possible. Early detection equals good treatment results.

What is the treatment for basal cell carcinoma?

Diagnosis of basal cell carcinoma is confirmed with a biopsy of the lesion performed by your dermatologist.

Treatment methods are determined by type, size, location and depth of penetration of the tumor as well as the patient’s age and health. Almost all treatment is performed in the physician’s office under local anesthetic. Discomfort during and after the procedure is minimal.

The following treatments are available:

  • Excision
  • Curettage (scraping of the skin)
  • Cryosurgery (freezing the tumor)
  • Radiation

Tumors that are treated very early require simple, confined treatment creating a cosmetically acceptable result. If the tumor has become larger, the treatment may be more extensive. This cancer very rarely spreads, however, if left untreated, can damage surrounding tissues and in some cases may require a skin graft of flap to cover the defect

What is the risk of recurrence of basal cell carcinomas?

Once basal cell carcinoma has been detected, it is possible that others may occur in either the same area or elsewhere on the body. Regular follow-up visits to a dermatologist to examine both the site of the former tumor or the existence of a new one is part of good skin health maintenance.

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