The most common type of skin cancer is basal cell carcinoma. According to the American Cancer Society, 75% of all skin cancers are basal cell carcinomas. Individuals most likely to get basal cell carcinomas are over 45 years of age, have fair skin and have had long term exposure to the sun during their lifetime. It is estimated that up to 90% of these types of lesions occur between the hairline and the upper lip but they can develop elsewhere on the body. Basal cell carcinomas are rarely lethal but they can cause great disfigurement if left untreated. The good thing to remember is that most basal cell carcinomas can successfully be cured if treated early. These skin cancers can reoccur even after treatment so an annual skin exam by a dermatologist is strongly recommended if you have been diagnosed with basal carcinoma.
Treatment for this type of skin cancer greatly depends on the size, location, and severity of the lesion and also your general health. You will need to discuss all your treatment options with your doctor following your diagnosis.
Here are some of the current methods to treat basal cell carcinomas:
• Surgical Excision: This is one of the most common ways to treat skin cancers in general. The area of the skin lesion is numbed with local anesthesia and then your doctor would use a scalpel to cut out the entire tumor along with a border of healthy skin to be safe. The wound is then sutured with stitches and the tissue sample is sent to the lab to be examined under a microscope. The lab will then tell the doctor if all the cancer cells have been removed. One advantage of this method is that the wound usually heals quickly. One disadvantage is that if the lab report says that the skin around the tumor is not completely free of cancer cells, you would have to come back for a re-excision. Basal cell carcinomas can come back despite having this type of surgery. Simple surgical excision is said to be less effective than Mohs surgery and has cure rates of about 90%.
• Electrodessication and Curettage: This procedure is done with local anesthesia. The doctor uses a sharp instrument called a curette to scrape off the lesion. An electrocautery device is then used to destroy any cancer cells with heat. This procedure is most easily performed on lesions found on flat areas of skin. One advantage to using this method is that the procedure can usually be completed in one visit. Another advantage is that many patients show no scar after 6-12 months following the procedure. In some cases a small white mark may remain.
It may not be as beneficial to use this procedure for aggressive basal cell carcinomas. The cure rate greatly depends upon the size of the tumor. The National Cancer Institute provides an estimate that lesions with diameters ranging from 2mm to 5mm have a 15% recurrence rate after this treatment while lesions greater than 3 cm have a 50% recurrence rate within 5 years.