Posted by: Skin and Cancer Institute in Skin Cancer

Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer—3.6 million cases are diagnosed each year. And it’s the most commonly diagnosed of all cancers.

What is Basal Cell Carcinoma?

Basal cell carcinoma is a common form of skin cancer that millions of people get each year from sun exposure. Basal cells are a type of cell in the top layer of the skin. They are susceptible to DNA damage from the sun. Once damaged, these basal cells grow uncontrollably.

What Does it Look Like?

Basal cell carcinoma comes in all different shapes and sizes and colors. It’s brown for people with deep skin tones, and pink for people with fair skin tones. Some are elevated, have a rolled edge, and have an indentation in the middle. Others look like:

  • Open sores
  • Shiny scars
  • Bumps
  • Red patches

What Does It Do?

Lesions can bleed, ooze, crust, and itch. They’re slow-growing, which means most people can get diagnosed and treated before it’s too late.

It’s Rarely Life-Threatening

Basal cell carcinoma usually stays in place (it rarely spreads to other parts of the body). Still, if left untreated, it can grow and cause problems like destroying skin, tissue, and bone.

Basal Cell Carcinoma Stages

There are several stages of basal cell carcinoma. They start with stage 0, which means cancer has not spread to the deeper layers of skin and is only present in the upper layer. Then the stages progress in the following order:

  • Stage 1: The tumor is smaller than one inch wide.
  • Stage 2: The tumor is larger than one inch wide.
  • Stage 3: Cancer has spread into facial bones and to one lymph node.
  • Stage 4: Cancer has spread to one or more lymph nodes and might have spread to bones and organs.

Mohs Surgery For Basal Cell Removal

With Mohs surgery, a dermatologist removes cancer one layer at a time. They examine each layer under a microscope until they no longer detect abnormal cells. This helps to preserve healthy skin and makes for the smallest scar possible.

Surgical Excision For Basal Cell Removal

Another option for Basal cell removal is surgical excision. This is where a dermatologist cuts out cancer, plus some of the healthy surrounding skin. They then check the healthy skin under a microscope to make sure the cancer cells are gone.

Should I See a Dermatologist?

It’s essential to see your dermatologist if you have a skin lesion that’s changing or meets any of the descriptions above. Basal cell carcinoma grows slowly, and people who get diagnosed early have a good chance of survival. We recommend an annual skin checkup with your dermatologist. That way, they can assess your risk for skin cancer and provide early detection and treatment if something is amiss.

What’s The Bottom Line?

Basal cell carcinoma is a common form of skin cancer that millions of people get each year from sun exposure. It varies in appearance from pink to brown, depending on the person’s skin color. It can also look like a scar, sore, bump, or red spot. It can bleed, ooze, and crust over. Sometimes it’s itchy. Although it can spread, it’s rare, and your outlook is good if you get diagnosed early.