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Can Basal Cell Carcinoma Kill You

Symptoms Of Skin Cancer

Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC) Skin Cancer

Skin cancers arent all identical, and they may not cause many symptoms. Still, unusual changes to your skin can be a warning sign for the different types of cancer. Being alert for changes to your skin may help you get a diagnosis earlier.

Watch out for symptoms, including:

  • skin lesions: A new mole, unusual growth, bump, sore, scaly patch, or dark spot develops and doesnt go away.
  • asymmetry: The two halves of the lesion or mole arent even or identical.
  • border: The lesions have ragged, uneven edges.
  • color: The spot has an unusual color, such as white, pink, black, blue, or red.
  • diameter: The spot is larger than one-quarter inch, or about the size of a pencil eraser.
  • evolving: You can detect that the mole is changing size, color, or shape.

What Can I Do To Prevent Skin Cancer In My Child

The American Academy of Dermatology and the Skin Cancer Foundation advise you to:

  • Limit how much sun your child gets between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

  • Use broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF 30 or higher that protects against both UVA and UVB rays. Put it on the skin of children older than 6 months of age who are exposed to the sun.

  • Reapply sunscreen every 2 hours, even on cloudy days. Reapply after swimming.

  • Use extra caution near water, snow, and sand. They reflect the damaging rays of the sun. This can increase the chance of sunburn.

  • Make sure your child wears clothing that covers the body and shades the face. Hats should provide shade for both the face, ears, and back of the neck. Wearing sunglasses will reduce the amount of rays reaching the eye and protect the lids of the eyes, as well as the lens.

  • Dont let your child use or be around sunlamps or tanning beds.

The American Academy of Pediatrics approves of the use of sunscreen on babies younger than 6 months old if adequate clothing and shade are not available. You should still try to keep your baby out of the sun. Dress the baby in lightweight clothing that covers most surface areas of skin. But you also may use a small amount of sunscreen on the babys face and back of the hands.

Basal Cell Carcinoma Treatment Options

No matter how treatable cancer is, facing it can still feel overwhelming. You may wonder whether treatment will leave a scar, or if your cancer can come back. Mercy understands your concerns. Well make sure you feel comfortable and confident before beginning any treatment.

Your treatment strategy will depend on several factors. These include the size and location of your basal cell carcinoma. Your doctor may recommend you have one or more types of treatment, including:

  • Medication, especially topical creams or ointments
  • Cryotherapy
  • Surgery to remove the cancer from your skin. Your surgeon will preserve as much healthy skin as possible.
  • Radiation therapy

Your relationship with Mercy wont end when your treatments end. Well continue to watch your skin closely, so you can take your mind off cancerand turn it back to the people and activities you love.

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Causes Of Basal Cell Carcinoma

UV or Ultraviolet rays either from the sun or a tanning bed are the main root cause for developing basal cell carcinoma. When the UV rays hit the skin, gradually they destroy the DNA of the skin cells. The DNA is responsible for how this skin grows. Over the time, this damage to the DNA causes development of cancer. This whole process can take many years.

What Happens If Basal Cell Carcinoma Goes Untreated

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If there is a silver lining associated with being diagnosed with BCC, it would be that it is one of only a few cancers that seldom metastasizes to other organs in the body and is rarely fatal. However, complications can occur if individuals do not seek prompt medical treatment. According to most dermatologists and oncologists with top-tier medical practices, such as skin cancer reconstructive surgery and facial reconstruction surgery, untreated BCC can give way to large tumors. The cancerous tissue can become deeply embedded under the skin and can cause damage to bones, all of which can result in disfigurement. If they grow too large, these tumors can put a strain on certain organs in the body, which can put ones life in danger.

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How Dermatologists Diagnose Basal Cell Carcinoma

When you see a board-certified dermatologist, your dermatologist will:

  • Examine your skin carefully

  • Ask questions about your health, medications, and symptoms

If your dermatologist finds a spot on your skin that could be any type of skin cancer, your dermatologist will first numb the area and then remove all of it. This can be done during an office visit and is called a skin biopsy. This is a simple procedure, which a dermatologist can quickly, safely, and easily perform.

Having a skin biopsy is the only way to know for sure whether you have any type of skin cancer. After your dermatologist removes the spot, a doctor, such as your dermatologist or a dermatopathologist, will examine it under a high-powered microscope. The doctor is looking for cancer cells.

If the doctor sees cancerous basal cells, the diagnosis is BCC.

After the doctor examines the removed skin under a microscope, the doctor writes a report. Called a biopsy report or a pathology report, this document explains in medical terms what was seen under the microscope.

If the diagnosis is any type of skin cancer, the information in this report will tell your dermatologist the key facts needed to treat the cancer, including:

  • The type of BCC you have

  • How deeply the cancer has grown

Your dermatologist will carefully consider your health and the findings in the report before choosing how to treat the cancer.

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Types Of Basal Cell Carcinoma

There are several types of basal cell carcinoma, including:

  • Nodular basal cell carcinoma: Approximately 60-80% of all basal cell carcinomas that present on the face or head are nodular. It is the most common subtype, and it is also known as nodulocystic carcinoma. It presents as a shiny, smooth nodule. It may have a dip in the center, with rolled edges, and blood vessels are often seen to cross its surface.
  • Superficial spreading basal cell carcinoma: Most commonly seen on the upper body, back, and shoulders, this type is more common in younger adults. It presents as shallow, scaly, irregular plaques that are pink or a similar color to the skin itself. Almost all superficial spreading basal cell carcinomas are secondary to sun damage.
  • Sclerosing basal cell carcinoma : This type can be challenging to diagnose. Most commonly seen on the face, it can look like a small, waxy, white scar that expands over time. It can be more dangerous or disfiguring because it is often not recognized as skin cancer until it has grown.
  • Pigmented basal cell carcinoma: Most commonly occurs in people with a darker skin tone, particularly Asians. The pigmentation can be found in the different basal cell carcinoma subtypes and it can appear dark blue, dark brown, or black.

It is possible that you can get more than one type of basal cell carcinoma simultaneously. If you have one type, it increases your risk of getting another. Basal cell carcinoma rarely spreads to other parts of the body.

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Surgical Procedures For Basal & Squamous Cell Skin Cancers

Basal or squamous cell skin cancers may need to be removed with procedures such as electrodessication and curettage, surgical excision, or Mohs surgery, with possible reconstruction of the skin and surrounding tissue.

Squamous cell cancer can be aggressive, and our surgeons may need to remove more tissue. They may also recommend additional treatments for advanced squamous cell cancer, such as medications or radiation therapyenergy beams that penetrate the skin, killing cancer cells in the body.

Basal cell cancer is less likely to become aggressive, but if it does, our doctors may use surgery and other therapies to treat it.

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Signs & Symptoms Of Basal Cell Carcinoma

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  • Basal cell carcinoma appears as a dome shaped growth on the skin, which has blood vessels in it.
  • Basal cell carcinoma can be of brown, pink or black color.
  • In the initial stages, a basal cell carcinoma looks like a small, pearl like bump and also resembles a flesh-colored pimple or mole which persists and doesnt go away.
  • Basal cell carcinoma can also look dark sometimes.
  • This cancer can also start as slightly scaly, shiny pink or red patches on the skin.
  • A hard and waxy skin growth is also one of the symptoms of basal cell carcinoma.
  • These growths are fragile and tend to bleed easily.

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How Is Basal Cell Carcinoma Diagnosed

One of the most significant challenges forthose who have basal cell carcinoma is that its appearance can vary so muchbetween patients. In many cases, a physician may misattribute a cancerousgrowth as some other condition, such as psoriasis or eczema.

To ensure that a diagnosis is accurate, yourdoctor may ask some or all of the following questions:

  • How much sun exposure did you getas a child?
  • Have you been using sunscreen?
  • Have you experienced blisteringsunburns recently?
  • Do you use tanning beds regularly?
  • Have you noticed bleeding spots onthe skin that dont heal quickly?

The most accurate way to diagnose BCC is foryour dermatologist to take a skin sample and get it tested for cancerous cells.

Fortunately, the prognosis for BCC is usuallyfavorable. As long as the cells havent spread to other parts of the body, patients can assume close to a 100% recovery rate.However, keep in mind that BCC can come back after treatment, so its necessaryto have follow-up inspections as well.

Basal Cell Carcinoma Treatment

Treatment plans for basal cell carcinoma is based on its size, depth and where its located.

Your surgeon may opt to excise the cancer, which means cut it out and stitch the remaining skin back together. Another basal skin cell carcinoma treatment method, curettage and electrodesiccation, involves scraping away cancer cells and using electricity to kill any that remain.

Mohs surgery is a skin cancer treatment that removes a mole layer by layer. Your surgeon looks at each layer under a microscope and continues to remove more layers until there is no evidence of the cancer. This tends to be preferred if the basal skin cell carcinoma is on the nose, ears and other areas of the face.

Treatments other than surgery may also be options, including:

  • Cryosurgery to freeze and kill the cancer cells
  • Medicated skin creams
  • Radiation therapy, which uses X-rays to kill cancer cells. This is an option when basal cell cancer cant be removed surgically.

If basal cell cancer has spread to other parts of your body, options may include newer biologic therapies. Both Erivedge® and Odomzo® block a key signaling pathway that encourages basal cell skin cancers to grow and spread.


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Stages Of Skin Cancer

If you receive a skin cancer diagnosis, the next step is to identify its stage.

Staging is how doctors determine whether the cancer has spread to other parts of your body. Staging is common with melanoma and Merkel cell carcinoma, because these cancers are more likely to spread.

Typically, basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas dont involve staging. These skin cancers are easily treated and dont usually spread. However, your doctor may recommend staging for larger lesions.

Staging is based on the size of the growth and whether it has high-risk features. High-risk features include:

  • larger than 2 millimeters thick
  • spreads into the lower levels of the skin
  • spreads into the space around a nerve
  • appears on the lips or ears
  • appears abnormal under a microscope

Heres a general breakdown of skin cancer stages:

  • Stage 0. The cancer hasnt spread to surrounding areas of the skin.
  • Stage 1. The cancer is 2 centimeters across or less, with no high-risk features.
  • Stage 2. The cancer is more than 2 cm across and has a least two high-risk features.
  • Stage 3. The cancer has spread to the bones in the face or nearby lymph nodes.
  • Stage 4. The cancer has spread to the lymph nodes or internal organs.

What Will Happen After Treatment

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Youll be glad when treatment is over. Your doctor will want you to check your skin at least once a month. It will be very important to protect yourself from getting too much sun.

For years after treatment ends, you will see your skin cancer doctor. At first, your visits may be every few months. Then, the longer youre cancer-free, the less often the visits are needed. Be sure to go to all of these follow-up visits. Your doctor will ask about symptoms and check you for signs of the cancer coming back or a new skin cancer. Other exams and tests may also be done.

Having cancer and dealing with treatment can be hard, but it can also be a time to look at your life in new ways. You might be thinking about how to improve your health. Call us at 1-800-227-2345 or talk to your cancer care team to find out what you can do to feel better.

You cant change the fact that you have cancer. What you can change is how you live the rest of your life making healthy choices and feeling as good as you can.

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How Is Bcc Diagnosed

Your healthcare provider will ask when you first saw the growth. He or she will ask if the size, color, or shape have changed since you first saw it. He or she will look over the rest of your skin for other growths. Tell your provider if you have a family history of skin cancer, or you had sunburns or have used tanning beds. A skin biopsy is used to remove a sample of the growth to be tested for cancer.

How Serious Is Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Dear Cecil:

I’m 48 years old. A few months ago, a small growth appeared on the upper side of my left forearm. It looked like a wart, but I went to a doctor recently and had it excised and biopsied. It was a squamous cell carcinoma. The doctor told me there was almost nothing to worry about since squamous cell is one of the least dangerous forms of cancer. Still, it’s hard not to stress about this. I trust your always excellent feedback. What is a squamous cell carcinoma? Do they metastasize at predictable rates? How much do I really have to worry about? If it makes any difference, I smoked cigarettes off and on for 30 years, but quit for good 14 months ago

Neil Flowers, Santa Cruz

Cecil replies:

Nothing like cancer to make an aging baby boomer realize hes not a kid anymore. Not to argue with your doctor, but least dangerous is not a term I would apply to squamous cell carcinoma. It is much less dangerous than some cancers, but it can spread and it can kill you. Whats more, if youve had it once, there is significantly increased risk that you will get it again. See a doctor immediately about any new growths. Also, while the damage has probably already been done, Id skip any future sunbathing squamous cell carcinoma appears to be directly related to solar exposure.

Cecil Adams

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How Does The Doctor Know I Have Skin Cancer

Basal and squamous skin cancer may look like:

  • Flat, firm, pale or yellow areas that look a lot like a scar
  • Raised reddish patches that might itch
  • Rough or scaly red patches, which might crust or bleed
  • Small, pink or red, shiny, pearly bumps, which might have blue, brown, or black areas
  • Pink growths or lumps with raised edges and a lower center
  • Open sores that dont heal, or that heal and then come back
  • Wart-like growths

Treatment For Skin Cancer

Treatment of Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC)

If you are diagnosed with skin cancer, you may have multiple options for treatment. Based on the specifics of your case, your doctor will recommend your best course of action. The suggested methods for fighting the cancer may include:

  • Cryotherapy. In cryotherapy, a doctor freezes and kills precancerous or cancerous skin cells using liquid nitrogen. This technique is most often used to treat minor basal or squamous carcinomas or precancerous skin conditions.

  • Surgery. Different types of skin cancer may be removed by surgery. Surgery can be excisional – simply cutting out a cancerous area and the skin surrounding it – or may involve meticulous removal of layers of skin.

  • Radiation therapy. In radiation therapy, energy beams are used to kill cancerous cells. Radiation therapy may help finish off a cancer that was not fully removed by surgery, and can also be instrumental in cases that dont allow for surgery.

  • Chemotherapy. This type of therapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. To treat some cases of skin cancer, chemotherapy may be applied locally through topical creams or lotions. It may also be administered by IV to target multiple body parts at once.

  • Immunotherapy. Immunotherapy, also called biological therapy, involves boosting the immune system to fight cancer cells. With the help of strengthening medicines, the immune system may be better prepared to kill cancerous cells.

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What Is The Likely Outcome For Someone Who Has Bcc

When found early and treated, this skin cancer can often be removed. However, this skin cancer can return. You also have a higher risk of developing another BCC or other type of skin cancer.

Thats why self-care becomes so important after treatment for BCC. Youll find the self-care that dermatologists recommend at, Basal cell carcinoma: Self-care.

ImageGetty Images

ReferencesBichakjian CK, Armstrong A, et al. Guidelines of care for the management of basal cell carcinoma. J Am Acad Dermatol 2018 78:540-59.

Bichakjian CK, Olencki T, et al. Basal cell skin cancer, Version 1.2016, NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology. J Natl Compr Canc Netw. 2016 14:574-97.

Cameron MC, Lee E, et al. Basal cell carcinoma: Epidemiology pathophysiology clinical and histological subtypes and disease associations. J Am Acad Dermatol 2019 80:303-17.

Cameron MC, Lee E, et al. Basal cell carcinoma: Contemporary approaches to diagnosis, treatment, and prevention. J Am Acad Dermatol 2019 80:321-39.

Nouri K, Ballard CJ, et al. Basal cell carcinoma. In: Nouri K, et al. Skin Cancer. McGraw Hill Medical, China, 2008: 61-81.

Xie P, Lefrançois P. Efficacy, safety, and comparison of sonic hedgehog inhibitors in basal cell carcinomas: A systematic review and meta-analysis. J Am Acad Dermatol 2018 79:1089-100.


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