Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is one of the most common forms of cancer; it is also one of the most curable, especially when it is detected and treated early. There are a number of different treatment options for BCC, and your doctor will recommend one he feels is best based on the size and location of the cancer; your age and health; and whether this is the first time you’ve had a BCC or if it is a recurrence.
The American Cancer Society lists the most common treatment options as:
This treatment has the highest cure rate — about 99 percent according to the Skin Cancer Foundation — but is complex and time consuming. Your doctor will remove skin one layer at a time. Each will be checked under a microscope until no cancer is present. This makes sure that all the cancer is removed. It works well for cancers where the edges are not well-defined or if the cancer is located near the nose, eyes, ears, forehead, or genital area, where deeper excisions could cause further problems or cosmetic concerns.
When excision is used, your doctor will make an incision and remove the tumor as well as some tissue around the tumor to increase the chances of removing all of the cancer. The cure rate for excision is above 95 percent, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.
Curettage and electrodesiccation
With this method of treatment, the area of the tumor is numbed and then the cancerous tissue is removed by scraping. Then electricity is used to destroy any remaining cancer. This is commonly used for tumors on the trunk and limbs. The Skin Cancer Foundation lists the cure rate at above 95 percent. However, this type of surgery may need to be repeated to be sure all of the cancer is removed. It isn’t often used on the face as it can leave a round, whitish scar.
This type of treatment is used for people who aren’t candidates for surgical procedures and can also be used for tumors in areas where surgery would be more difficult, such as on the eyelids. Radiation can also be added to other methods if your doctor isn’t sure that all of the cancer has been removed.
Two topical chemotherapy medications, imiquidmod and 5-fluorouracil, have been approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat BCC, but the cure rates are lower. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, these medications are effective 80 to 90 percent of the time.
Although rare, BCC can spread. Two oral medications, vismodegib and sonidegib, are approved by the FDA for treatment of advanced BCC. Both can cause birth defects and should not be used by women who are pregnant or may become pregnant.
Basal cell carcinoma is highly treatable and many of the treatments are preformed right in your doctor’s office. While many people put off going to the doctor out of fear, it is much more dangerous to ignore cancer and hope it will go away on its own.
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Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.