Basal Cell Carcinoma

What is basal cell carcinoma?

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.

Basal Cell CarcinomaThe 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
  • Age
    • Older people are more likely to develop BCC, most likely due to total amount of previous sun exposure.
  • Fair skin
  • Light-colored hair
  • Light-colored eyes
  • 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.

Basal Cell Carcinoma Basal Cell Carcinoma  Basal Cell Carcinoma Basal Cell Carcinoma    

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:

  • Surgical excision
  • Electrodessication and curettage
  • Mohs micrographic surgery
  • Imiquimod topical cream
  • Photodynamic therapy
  • Cryosurgery
  • Radiation therapy

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.

Basal Cell Carcinoma
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