Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC) (Cancer)
BCCs are abnormal, uncontrolled growths or lesions that arise in the skin’s basal cells, which line the deepest layer of the epidermis (the outermost layer of the skin). BCCs often look like open sores, red patches, pink growths, shiny bumps, or scars. Usually caused by a combination of cumulative UV exposure and intense, occasional UV exposure, BCC can be highly disfiguring if allowed to grow, but almost never spreads (metastastasizes) beyond the original tumor site. Only in exceedingly rare cases can BCC spread to other parts of the body and become life-threatening.
BCC is the most frequently occurring form of all cancers. More than one out of every three new cancers are skin cancers, and the vast majority are BCCs. It shouldn’t be taken lightly: this skin cancer can be disfiguring if not treated promptly.
What does it look like?
A scar-like area that is pearly, yellow or waxy, and often has poorly defined borders; the skin itself appears shiny and taut. This warning sign may indicate the presence of an invasive BCC that is larger than it appears to be on the surface. Occasionally, BCC presents as an open sore that bleeds, oozes, or crusts and remains open for a few weeks, only to heal up and then bleed again. A persistent, non–healing sore is a very common sign of an early BCC. A reddish patch or irritated area on the face, chest, shoulders, arms, or legs that crusts may be a clue to BCC.
BCCs are easily treated in their early stages. The larger the tumor has grown, however, the more extensive the treatment needed. Although this skin cancer seldom spreads, or metastasizes, to vital organs, it can damage surrounding tissue, sometimes causing considerable destruction and disfigurement — and some BCCs are more aggressive than others.
After the physician’s examination, the diagnosis of BCC is confirmed with a biopsy. In this procedure, the skin is first numbed with local anesthesia. A piece of tissue is then removed and sent to be examined under a microscope in the laboratory to seek a definitive diagnosis. If tumor cells are present, treatment is required. Fortunately, there are several effective methods for eradicating BCC. Choice of treatment is based on the type, size, location, and depth of penetration of the tumor, the patient’s age and general health, and the likely cosmetic outcome of specific treatments.
Treatment can almost always be performed on an outpatient basis in the physician’s office or at a clinic. With the various surgical techniques, a local anesthetic is commonly used. Pain or discomfort during the procedure is minimal, and pain afterwards is rare.
When small skin cancers are removed, the scars are usually cosmetically acceptable. If the tumors are very large, a skin graft or flap may be used to repair the wound in order to achieve the best cosmetic result and facilitate healing.