Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC)
What is Basal Cell Carcinoma?
Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is currently the most common form of skin cancer. Statistics indicate that more than 4 million cases are diagnosed annually in the United States. More than one in three new cases of skin cancer involve basal cell carcinoma.
This type of skin cancer develops from the abnormal growth of basal skin cells. Basal cells are one of the primary types of cells located within the upper layers of the skin. These cells shed as new cells form. Abnormal basal cell growth may occur as a result of exposure to ultraviolet light, usually via indoor or outdoor tanning.
What Are the Warning Signs of Basal Cell Carcinoma?
Basal cell carcinomas may exhibit certain characteristics, such as:
- Red patches
- Pink growths
- Open sores
- Shiny bumps
- Growths with slightly elevated edges and an indentation in the center
A BCC may crust, bleed, itch, or ooze at times. This type of skin cancer is normally found in areas of the body where sun exposure routinely occurs, such as the face, arms, hands, ears, neck, chest, and shoulders.
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How Aggressive is Basal Cell Carcinoma?
Most basal cell carcinomas grow slowly and can be cured with minimal damage caused by the disease. Rarely, a BCC may grow more aggressively and may spread to other parts of the body. Although very rare, basal cell carcinoma can cause death.
This is one reason why it is so important to recognize the warning signs of skin cancer and to consult with a board-certified dermatologist, such as Dr. Valerie Callender, yearly or at the first indication of abnormal cell growth.
“From the office staff to the Doctor the professionalism was truly a five. You are immediately greeted with a friendly and welcoming office person. The doctor actually listened to my problem and didnt make me feel as if I was on a time schedule. Very pleasant experience.” – N.I.
Is Basal Cell Carcinoma Treatable?
Basal cell carcinomas can be treated and should be treated early whenever possible. It is not common for this type of skin cancer to spread beyond its original parameters. However, if a BCC does grow, it can invade surrounding tissue, destroy skin and bone, and cause disfigurement that requires reconstructive surgery to repair. Studies suggest that, if a basal cell carcinoma is not treated promptly, there is an increased likelihood of recurrence.
Basal cell carcinoma treatment should occur as quickly as possible after diagnosis. The team at Callender Dermatology provides comprehensive diagnostic and therapeutic care to help our patients resolve skin cancer successfully.
What Are the Treatment Options for Basal Cell Carcinoma?
Prompt treatment for skin cancer is ideal because, the longer a tumor grows, the more it can invade surrounding tissue. This invasion occurs without additional warning signs and requires more extensive treatment to fully remove the tumor and repair tissue damage.
Several effective treatments are available for basal cell carcinoma. These include:
Curettage and Electrodesiccation
This procedure is also referred to as electrosurgery. During Curettage and Electrodesiccation, the doctor uses a sharp instrument with a ring-shaped tip (curette) to shave off the growth to the skin’s surface. Heat is then used to destroy abnormal cells that remain. This step, electrodesiccation, also seals the wound and stops bleeding. This process may be repeated during a single visit to remove all cancer cells. Curettage and electrodesiccation usually leave a round, whitish scar.
This single-visit surgical skin cancer treatment removes abnormal growths in stages. During Mohs surgery, the dermatologist removes visibly abnormal cells and a very small layer of tissue around the tumor site. The tissue is color-coded to create a map that correlates to the surgical site. Then, the removed tissue is immediately examined under a microscope.
If cancer cells are identified on a small slice of tissue, another small amount is removed and examined. This process continues until no cancer cells remain. Depending on the size of the growth, wound closure may be performed. Otherwise, the surgical site is dressed and bandaged to heal on its own.
Skin cancer may be removed using this procedure, which excises the entire tumor in one piece. A safety margin of surrounding tissue is included to reduce the risk of any cancer cells being left behind. The removed tissue is sent to an off-site laboratory for examination and confirmation of complete cancer removal. If the biopsy shows that cancer cells may remain, a second excision or another form of treatment may be performed.
Topical or Oral Medications
Several topical skin cancer medications exist. This form of treatment works through direct application to the superficial abnormal growth to either kill existing cancer cells or to activate the immune system to attack diseased cells.
Oral medications are typically reserved for treating advanced BCC; those that are large or have invaded deeper layers of tissue or have spread to other parts of the body. Oral medications are “hedgehog” inhibitors that work by blocking signals that are involved in the development of BCC.
This office procedure may be used to treat superficial BCC growths that have not spread to surrounding tissue. Treatment involves the application of liquid nitrogen to the tumor to freeze cells. After cryotherapy, the growth and a small area of surrounding skin may crust or blister and fall off. Shed skin cells will be replaced with healthy new cells.
Photo describes light. Photodynamic therapy is a process of making targeted skin cells sensitive to light. The skin is then treated with pulsed-dye laser or blue light. The interaction between the skin and light then destroys cancerous cells. Because photodynamic therapy works based on photosensitivity (light sensitivity), it is necessary for patients to strictly avoid sun exposure for at least 2 days after treatment to prevent severe sunburn.
A dermatologist may use ablative or non-ablative laser energy to destroy BCC growths. An ablative laser vaporizes a target area of skin to destroy cancerous cells. Non-ablative lasers heat the skin, which preserves healthy tissue but destroys the cancerous tumor.
Radiation is low-energy X-ray beams. Radiation therapy focuses these beams on the tumor to destroy abnormal cells. Multiple treatments may be necessary to fully eliminate cancerous cells. These treatments may be performed daily or at specified intervals over a few weeks.
What Can I Do to Prevent Basal Cell Carcinoma?
The best way to prevent basal cell carcinoma is to minimize exposure to ultraviolet light. Ways to do this include:
- Avoid direct sun exposure during the peak hours of 10 am to 4 pm.
- Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 15 to 30. Sunscreen should be used daily, 30-minutes before going out, regardless of how much time may be spent outdoors.
- When spending an hour or more outdoors, it is necessary to reapply sunscreen every two hours or after sweating or swimming.
- Do not use tanning beds.
- Use clothing, hats, and sunglasses as protection against excessive UV exposure.
- Perform a skin examination each month, observing all areas of the body. A mirror may need to be used to see the backside and other areas.
- Schedule annual skin cancer screenings with a dermatologist.