10 Things to Know About Basal Cell Carcinoma

by Anne Windermere Patient Advocate

When you someone talks about skin cancer most people think of melanoma as this is the type of skin cancer which is the most deadly and is most frequently reported in the news. But there are other types of non-melanoma skin cancers that you need to know about as well, including basal cell carcinoma.

Here are ten things to know about this type of skin cancer:

  1. Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is so named because it affects the basal cells or the small round cells at the base of the epidermis (the outer layer of skin). When these basal cells turn cancerous they can form skin tumors which can potentially destroy surrounding skin tissue.

  2. Some people worry that BCC can turn into melanoma over time. But these are two different skin cancers and one cannot transform into the other.

  3. Basal cell carcinoma is said to be the world's most common cancer and according to the American Cancer Society, 75% of all skin cancers are basal cell carcinomas. Some estimates say that approximately 30% of people, almost exclusively Caucasians, can expect to develop basal carcinoma by their 55th birthday.

  4. Up to 90% of basal cell carcinomas are found on the face but they can grow on any part of the body and especially body parts which have been exposed to the sun. Basal cell carcinoma is more common for people who have had long term exposure to the sun or have occupations which have them outdoors for extended periods of time.

  5. Basal cell carcinomas quite often grow slowly and painlessly. The tumors caused by this type of skin cancer rarely spread (metastasize) or cause death. But this does not mean that you can allow these tumors to go untreated. Basal cell carcinomas can invade surrounding skin tissues and bone causing great disfigurement. Some types of basal cell carcinoma are more aggressive than others. Depending upon the location and severity of the tumor, the functional structure of the eyes, nose, or ears may be at risk.

  6. Treatment is quite often very successful especially if the basal cell carcinoma is caught early on with a cure rate of more than 95%. One popular method for treating basal cell carcinomas is Mohs surgery.

  7. There is a chance that once you have had BCC it can return. The estimated risk of this type of cancer returning if treated with Mohs surgery is about 1% and up to 10% of a chance for reoccurrence with other types of treatment. Regular skin exams by your dermatologist are suggested for BCC patients to watch for any signs of the cancer returning.

  8. You are more at risk for developing basal cell carcinoma if you have any of the following characteristics: Fair skin, blue or green eyes, blond or red hair, and having been overexposed to x-rays or other forms of radiation.

  9. Basal cell carcinomas may be difficult to detect because sometimes they can look like an ordinary mole or even a pimple. There is a great variety of the appearance of these tumors based upon which type of BCC you have. The bump or growth can vary in color from pearly or waxy, white or light pink or flesh-colored or brown. Other warning signs may include having a sore which does not heal, bleeds or crusts over. Also the sore may have a sunken area in the middle.

  10. Basal cell carcinoma and other types of skin cancer can be prevented.

To see what basal cell carcinomas can look like The Skin Cancer Foundation has many images to look at including five visual warning signs that you may have BCC.

Anne Windermere
Meet Our Writer
Anne Windermere

These articles were written by a longtime HealthCentral community member who shared valuable insights from her experience living with multiple chronic health conditions. She used the pen name "Merely Me."