Skin Cancer Types: Basal Cell Carcinoma Overview
All content solely developed by the American Academy of Dermatology
Basal cell carcinoma
What is basal cell carcinoma?The most common type of skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma can show up on the skin in many ways.
Is it contagious? No
Study: Basal Cell Carcinomas May Be A Harbinger For More Serious Cancers
Sun worshippers, take heed: Researchers say they have found a connection between multiple basal cell skin cancersthe most common type of skin cancerand a significantly increased risk for later developing a host of unrelated cancer types, including melanoma as well as colorectal cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer and blood cancer.
People diagnosed with six or more basal cell skin cancers in a 10-year period are three times more likely to develop another cancer compared to people who have never had that type of cancer, according to data from a .
Basal cell carcinoma accounts for 80 percent of all skin cancer diagnoses, amounting to about 4 million new cases a year. Its considered the most benign cancer because its slow-growing and is nearly always treated successfully when caught early. Its chief cause? Repeated and unprotected skin exposure to ultraviolet rays from sunlight, as well as from man-made sources such as tanning beds, according to the American Cancer Society. UV rays can damage the DNA of skin cells, interfering with cell growth and division. It should be no surprise then that basal cell carcinomas are most often found on the head or neck, or other parts of the body exposed to the sun, such as the arms and legs.
Merkel Cell Carcinoma: A Rare Skin Cancer On The Rise
Merkel cell carcinoma is a rare type of skin cancer that affects about 2,000 people in the United States each year.
Though its an uncommon skin cancer, cases of Merkel cell carcinoma have increased rapidly in the last couple of decades.
This type of cancer starts when cells in the skin, called Merkel cells, start to grow out of control.
Merkel cell carcinomas typically grow quickly and can be difficult to treat if they spread.
They can start anywhere on the body, but Merkel cell carcinomas commonly affect areas exposed to the sun, such as the face, neck, and arms.
They may look like pink, red, or purple lumps that are firm when you touch them. Sometimes, they can open up as ulcers or sores.
Risk factors include:
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Warning Signs Of Basal Cell Carcinoma That You Could Mistake As Harmless
Warning sign: A pink or reddish growth that dips in the centerCan be mistaken for: A skin injury or acne scar
A pink or reddish growth that dips in the center
The BCC on this patients cheek could be mistaken for a minor skin injury.
Warning sign: A growth or scaly patch of skin on or near the earCan be mistaken for: Scaly, dry skin, minor injury, or scar
A growth or scaly patch of skin on or near the ear
BCC often develops on or near an ear, and this one could be mistaken for a minor skin injury.
Warning sign: A sore that doesn’t heal and may bleed, ooze, or crust overCan be mistaken for: Sore or pimple
A sore that doesn’t heal, or heals and returns
This patient mistook the BCC on his nose for a non-healing pimple.
Warning sign: A scaly, slightly raised patch of irritated skin, which could be red, pink, or another colorCan be mistaken for: Dry, irritated skin, especially if it’s red or pink
A scaly, slightly raised patch of irritated skin
This BCC could be mistaken for a patch of dry, irritated skin.
Warning sign: A round growth that may be pink, red, brown, black, tan, or the same color as your skinCan be mistaken for: A mole, wart, or other harmless growth.
A round growth that may be same color as your skin
Would you recognize this as a skin cancer, or would you dismiss it as a harmless growth on your face?
How Dangerous Is Bcc
While BCCs rarely spread beyond the original tumor site, if allowed to grow, these lesions can be disfiguring and dangerous. Untreated BCCs can become locally invasive, grow wide and deep into the skin and destroy skin, tissue and bone. The longer you wait to have a BCC treated, the more likely it is to recur, sometimes repeatedly.
There are some highly unusual, aggressive cases when BCC spreads to other parts of the body. In even rarer instances, this type of BCC can become life-threatening.
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Basal Cell Carcinoma Staging
Staging is the process of determining whether cancer has spread and, if so, how far. The stage of the disease may affect the treatment plan.
The stage is based on the size of the tumor, how deeply into the skin it has grown, and whether cancer has spread beyond the tumor to the lymph nodes. Your doctor will look at the results of the biopsy to determine the stage. In rare cases, your doctor may recommend imaging such as CT or PET-CT scan to see if the cancer has spread beyond the skin
Stages are numbered in Roman numerals between 0 and IV.
Most non-melanoma skin cancers are Stage 0 or Stage 1. Stage 3 and 4 are relatively rare. Based on the type of cancer, the stage of cancer, your overall health, and other factors, your doctor works with you to develop a treatment plan.
High risk features for primary tumor staging
- Depth/invasion: > 2 mm thickness , Clark level IV, Perineural invasion
- Anatomic: Primary site ear
- Location: Primary site hair-bearing lip
- Differentiation: Poorly differentiated or undifferentiated
What Causes Squamous Cell Cancer
Most squamous cell skin cancers are caused by repeated and unprotected skin exposure to ultraviolet light from sunlight and tanning beds.
Risk factors for developing squamous cell skin cancer include:
- Ultraviolet light exposure
- Excisional biopsy: removes the entire tumor
- Incisional biopsy: removes only a portion of the tumor
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What Happens If A Basal Cell Carcinoma Is Not Treated
A basal cell carcinoma is one of the more common forms of skin cancers and, fortunately, one of the most treatable, says Dr. Adam Mamelak, board certified dermatologist and skin cancer specialist in Austin, Texas.
Basal cell carcinoma is most commonly caused by exposure of the skin to ultraviolet light, either from the sun or a tanning bed. Gradually, the effects of exposure damage the DNA, resulting in the development of cancer. The process can take anywhere from weeks to months to several years before it becomes noticeable.
Basal cell carcinomas can look different. They can appear as tiny, pearl shaped bumps. They can also manifest as shiny red or pink patches that feel slightly scaly. They are fragile and can bleed easily. Some appear to be dark against the surrounding skin, while others will break down and create a sore or ulcer on the skin.
If Dr. Mamelak suspects his patients have a basal cell carcinoma, he often does a biopsy on the growth to see if cancer cells are present. Dr. Mamelak also asks his patients a number of questions about their potential risk factors, including how often they are out in the sun, whether or not they use a tanning bed, and what kind of sunblock they use, if any.
What happens if a basal cell carcinoma is not treated?
Additional And Relevant Useful Information For Basal Cell Carcinoma Of Vulva:
Although dirty skin is not considered a risk factor for developing Basal Cell Carcinoma of Vulva, keeping the skin clean helps avoid infections and other complications. However, it must be noted that aggressive cleaning of the skin and use of harsh chemicals and soaps should be avoided, so as to not worsen the condition.
Do Basal Cell Carcinoma And Melanoma Look Different
The first sign of basal cell carcinoma is usually a small white or flesh-colored skin bump that grows slowly and may bleed. On the other hand, the first sign of melanoma is often a noticeable change in a mole, such as:
- Asymmetry. The shape of one half of the mole does not mirror the other half.
- An irregular border. The edges of the mole may be ragged, notched or blurred, with the pigment appearing to spread into the surrounding skin.
- Uneven coloring. The mole may display shades of black, brown, tan, white, gray, red, pink or blue.
- An increase in diameter. There is a change in size, usually an increase. Melanomas can be tiny, but most are larger than the size of a pea .
- Evolution. The mole has changed over the past few weeks or months.
A skin biopsy is the only way to diagnose basal cell carcinoma or melanoma. A physician can remove a small portion of suspicious tissue, then send it to a lab to be analyzed under a microscope for evidence of cancer. Therefore, it is important to promptly discuss any unusual skin changes with a physician.
If you have been diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma or melanoma, a skin cancer specialist at Moffitt Cancer Center can offer a second opinion after reviewing your lab work, biopsies and images. Or, if you have a suspicious skin lesion, you can have it checked at Moffitt with or without a referral. To request an appointment, call or submit a new patient registration form online.
Does Skin Cancer Affect People With Skin Of Color
People of all skin tones can develop skin cancer. If you are a person of color, you may be less likely to get skin cancer because you have more of the brown pigment, melanin, in your skin.
Although less prevalent than in nonwhite people, when skin cancer does develop in people of color, its often found late and has a worse prognosis. If youre Hispanic, the incidence of melanoma has risen by 20% in the past two decades. If youre Black and develop melanoma, your five-year survival rate is 25% lower than it is for white people . Part of the reason may be that it develops in less typical, less sun-exposed areas and its often in late-stage when diagnosed.
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Who Discovered Basal Cell Carcinoma
. Similarly one may ask, what does the beginning of basal cell carcinoma look like?
At first, a basal cell carcinoma comes up like a small pearly bump that looks like a flesh-colored mole or a pimple that doesnt go away. Sometimes these growths can look dark. Or you may also see shiny pink or red patches that are slightly scaly. Another symptom to watch out for is a waxy, hard skin growth.
Similarly, what happens to untreated basal cell carcinoma? Basal cell carcinoma is a very slow growing type of non-melanoma skin cancer. If left untreated, basal cell carcinomas can become quite large, cause disfigurement, and in rare cases, spread to other parts of the body and cause death.
Additionally, what causes basal cell carcinoma?
Basal cell carcinoma is caused by damage and subsequent DNA changes to the basal cells in the outermost layer of skin. Exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun and indoor tanning is the major cause of BCCs and most skin cancers.
How serious is basal cell cancer?
Basal cell carcinoma is one of the exceptions, a skin cancer that is more an annoyance than a deadly foe. However, unlike most other malignancies, basal cell skin cancers are seldom aggressive. They rarely kill or spread through the body to cause damage elsewhere.
Basal Cell Carcinoma Of The Female Breast Masquerading As Invasive Primary Breast Carcinoma: An Uncommon Presentation Site
1Department of Internal Medicine, University of Nevada Reno, School of Medicine, 1155 Mill Street, Reno, NV 89502, USA
2American Public University System, 111 West Congress Street, Charles Town, WV 25414, USA
Skin cancer as a single entity is the most common malignancy in North America, accounting for half of all human cancers. It comprises two types: melanoma and nonmelanoma skin cancers. Of the nonmelanomas, basal cell carcinoma constitutes about 80% of the cancers diagnosed every year. BCC usually occurs in sun-exposed areas such as the face and extremities. Occurrence in the nipple areolar complex is very rare. We present a case of a Caucasian woman who presented with what was initially thought to be invasive carcinoma of the breast involving the nipple areolar complex however, the diagnosis was revealed to be a basal cell carcinoma after histopathological examination. The tumor was treated with modified radical mastectomy, with negative margins. The importance of this case lies in the rare site of presentation of basal cell carcinoma and the importance of early detection.
2. Case Report
She had no prior personal or family history of skin and breast cancers. She had no history of excessive exposure to sunlight, radiation exposure, arsenic ingestion, or a history of immunosuppression.
Conflicts of Interest
All the authors declare that they have no competing interests.
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After Skin Cancer Treatment
Most skin cancer is cured surgically in the dermatologist’s office. Of skin cancers that do recur, most do so within three years. Therefore, follow up with your dermatologist as recommended. Make an appointment immediately if you suspect a problem.
If you have advanced malignant melanoma, your oncologist may want to see you every few months. These visits may include total body skin exams, regional lymph node checks, and periodic chest X-rays and body scans. Over time, the intervals between follow-up appointments will increase. Eventually these checks may be done only once a year.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma Stages
There are certain features that are considered to make the cancer at higher risk for spreading or recurrence, and these may also be used to stage squamous cell carcinomas. These include:
- Greater than 2 mm in thickness
- Invasion into the lower dermis or subcutis layers of the skin
- Invasion into the tiny nerves in the skin
- Location on the ear or on a hair-bearing lip
After the TNM components and risk factors have been established, the cancer is assigned to one of the five squamous cell carcinoma stages, which are labeled 0 to 4. The characteristics and stages of squamous cell cancer are:
Stage 0: Also called carcinoma in situ, cancer discovered in this stage is only present in the epidermis and has not spread deeper to the dermis.
Stage 1 squamous cell carcinoma: The cancer is less than 2 centimeters, about 4/5 of an inch across, has not spread to nearby lymph nodes or organs, and has one or fewer high-risk features.
Stage 2 squamous cell carcinoma: The cancer is larger than 2 centimeters across, and has not spread to nearby organs or lymph nodes, or a tumor of any size with 2 or more high risk features.
Stage 3 squamous cell carcinoma: The cancer has spread into facial bones or 1 nearby lymph node, but not to other organs.
Stage 4 squamous cell carcinoma: The cancer can be any size and has spread to 1 or more lymph nodes which are larger than 3 cm and may have spread to bones or other organs in the body.
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Are All Moles Cancerous
Most moles are not cancerous. Some moles are present at birth, others develop up to about age 40. Most adults have between 10 and 40 moles.
In rare cases, a mole can turn into melanoma. If you have more than 50 moles, you have an increased chance of developing melanoma.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Your skin is the largest organ in your body. It needs as much attention as any other health concern. What may seem like an innocent cosmetic imperfection, may not be. Performing regular skin self-checks is important for everyone and is especially important if you are a person at increased risk of skin cancer. Skin cancer is also color-blind. If you are a person of color, skin cancer can happen to you. Check your skin every month for any changes in skin spots or any new skin growths. Consider taking skin selfies so you can easily see if spots change over time. If youre a person of color, be sure to check areas more prone to cancer development, such as the palms of your hands, soles of your feet, between your toes, your genital area and under your nails. Takes steps to protect your skin. Always wear sunscreen with SPF of at least 30 every day of the year. Wear UV-A/UV-B protective sunglasses, wide-brimmed hats and long-sleeve shirts and pants. See your dermatologist at least once a year for a professional skin check.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 11/19/2021.
What Are Basal And Squamous Cell Skin Cancers
Basal and squamous cell skin cancers are the most common types of skin cancer. They start in the top layer of skin , and are often related to sun exposure.
Cancer starts when cells in the body begin to grow out of control. Cells in nearly any part of the body can become cancer cells. To learn more about cancer and how it starts and spreads, see What Is Cancer?
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