Basal cell carcinoma is the most common cancer in the United States. It affects approximately two million people each year. In fact, basal cell carcinoma is the most common malignancy in the world. And the numbers continue to rise. One in five Americans will develop skin cancer during their lifetime.
The skin is divided into three compartments:
Epidermis, made up of primarily of cells called keratinocytes.
Keratinocytes can give rise to non-melanoma skin cancers
Epidermis also contains melanocytes, pigment-producing cells of the skin
Dermis, made up of collagen, elastin and other connective tissue elements
Subcutaneous fat tissue
Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) originates in keratinocytes in the lowest layer (basal layer) of the epidermis or hair follicles. Although basal cell carcinoma is rarely fatal, it can grow aggressively causing extensive local tissue damage and permanent disfigurement. Early diagnosis and proper treatment can prevent this. In extremely rare cases, basal cell carcinoma can spread or metastasize to other parts of the body.
Basal cell carcinoma starts out looking quite harmless, as a small pink bump or crusted area that tends to bleed and not heal. Most BCCs occur on sun-exposed areas, like the head, neck and chest, but can develop anywhere on the skin surface, including the non-sun exposed sites like the genitals and perianal area.
Who gets basal cell carcinomas?
The likelihood of developing BCC increases when you have one or more of the following risk factors:
History of sunburns, especially before age 20
History of extensive sun exposure
Personal or family history of skin cancer
Older people are more likely to develop BCC, most likely due to total amount of previous sun exposure.
Weakened immune system
History of radiation therapy
Exposure to certain chemicals, like arsenic, creosote, pitch and coal tar
Rare genetic disorders, like nevoid basal cell carcinoma syndrome and xeroderma pigmentosum
What causes basal cell carcinoma?
Undoubtedly, ultraviolet light exposure is the major cause of basal cell carcinoma. Both the sun and indoor tanning beds are sources of ultraviolet light.
Patients with a rare genetic disorders, xeroderma pigmentosum and nevoid basal cell carcinoma syndrome, are exquisitely sensitive to UV light and are much more likely to develop BCC than the general population.
Other causes include exposure to certain chemicals, radiation therapy and immunosuppression.
What does basal cell carcinoma look like?
The appearance of basal cell carcinoma can range from a pearly pink papule, to an ulcer with rolling borders, to a scaling flat patch to a hardened porcelain-white plaque on the skin. Because it is sometimes difficult to differentiate BCC from other skin disorders, a thorough skin examination by a dermatologist is needed once a year, or more often if you have many risk factors for developing skin cancer.
How is basal cell carcinoma diagnosed?
A biopsy is required for the diagnosis of skin cancer. A biopsy is performed by numbing the area of the skin suspected of being cancerous with a local anesthetic injection and removing the lesion or a portion of it. The pathologist examines the tissue specimen to determine if there is skin cancer.
Treatments for basal cell carcinoma
Treatment for BCC depends on the type, size and location of the tumor.
Treatment methods used for BCC:
Electrodessication and curettage
Mohs micrographic surgery
Imiquimod topical cream
Prevention of basal cell carcinoma
Avoid sun exposure between the hours of 10 am and 4 pm
Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with excellent UVB and UVA coverage.
Apply the sunscreen at least 20 minutes before going outside
Reapply sunscreen every two hours or more often if swimming or sweating
Wear sun-protective clothing, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses
Summit Medical Group is proud to provide medical, surgical and cosmetic dermatology services to women and men in the Tri-State Area, New York and New Jersey, including the following counties and cities: Essex County, Morris County, Bergen County, Union County, Passaic County, Somerset County and Sussex County, NJ - Livingston, Millburn, Short Hills, West Orange, Berkley Heights, Caldwell, Cedar Grove, Cedar Knolls, Chatham, East Hanover, Englewood Cliffs, Essex Fells, Fair Lawn, Florham Park, Fort Lee, Glen Ridge, Jersey City, Kinnelon, Madison, Maplewood, Mendham, Montclair, Montvale, Morristown, New Providence, North Caldwell, Parsippany, Randolph, Roseland, South Orange, Springfield, Summit, Union, Verona, West Caldwell, Whippany and Westfield, NJ.
Disclaimer: The information on this Web site is solely for to educate patients. It is not intended to be medical advice and, therefore, should not be considered a substitute for consultation with a qualified medical professional. Communications to or from the Summit Medical Group Web site and any person will not be used to establish a relationship between a patient and doctor.