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Basal cell skin cancer

Basal cell carcinoma; Rodent ulcer; Skin cancer - basal cell; Cancer - skin - basal cell; Nonmelanoma skin cancer; Basal cell NMSC; Basal cell epithelioma

Basal cell cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. Most skin cancers are basal cell cancer.

Other common types of skin cancer are:

Images

Skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma - nose
Skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma - pigmented
Skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma - behind ear
Skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma - spreading
Multiple Basal cell cancer due to x-ray therapy for acne
Basal Cell Carcinoma - face
Basal cell carcinoma - close-up
Basal cell cancer

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Causes

The top layer of the skin is called the epidermis. The bottom layer of the epidermis is the basal cell layer. With basal cancer, cells in this layer are the ones that become cancerous. Most basal cell cancers occur on skin that is regularly exposed to sunlight or other ultraviolet radiation.

This type of skin cancer is most common in people over age 50. But it can also occur in younger people who have had extensive sun exposure. Basal cell cancer is almost always slow-growing. It rarely spreads to other parts of the body.

You are more likely to develop basal cell cancer if you have:

Other risk factors include:

Symptoms

Basal cell cancer usually grows slowly and is often painless. It may not look that different from your normal skin. You may have a skin bump or growth that is:

In some cases, the skin is just slightly raised, or even flat.

You may have:

Exams and Tests

Your doctor will check your skin and look at the size, shape, color, and texture of any suspicious areas.

If your doctor thinks you might have skin cancer, a piece of skin will be removed. This is called a skin biopsy. The sample is sent to a lab for examination under a microscope.

A skin biopsy must be done to confirm basal cell cancer or other skin cancers.

Treatment

Treatment depends on the size, depth, and location of the skin cancer and your overall health. Each treatment has its risks and benefits. You and your doctor can discuss the treatment that's right for you.

Treatment may involve any of the following:

Support Groups

You can ease the stress of illness by joining a cancer support group. Sharing with others who have common experiences and problems can help you not feel alone.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Most of these cancers are cured when treated early. Some basal cell cancers return in the same location. Smaller ones are less likely to come back.

Basal cell skin cancer almost never spreads beyond the original location. Left untreated, however, it may spread into surrounding areas and nearby tissues and bone.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call for an appointment with your health care provider if you have a sore or spot on your skin that changes in:

Also call your provider if a spot becomes painful or swollen, or if it starts to bleed or itch.

Prevention

The American Cancer Society recommends that a provider examine your skin every year if you are older than 40 and every 3 years if you are 20 to 40 years old. You should also examine your own skin once a month. Use a hand mirror for hard-to-see places. Call your doctor if you notice anything unusual.

The best way to prevent skin cancer is to reduce your exposure to sunlight. Always use sunscreen:

Other measures to help you avoid too much sun exposure:

Related Information

Cancer
X-ray
Tumor

References

Habif TP. Premalignant and malignant nonmelanoma skin tumors. In: Habif TP, ed. Clinical Dermatology: A Color Guide to Diagnosis and Therapy. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 21.

National Cancer Institute website. Skin cancer treatment (PDQ®) - Health Professional Version. www.cancer.gov/types/skin/hp/skin-treatment-pdq#section/_222. Updated December 19, 2019. Accessed February 24, 2020.

National Comprehensive Cancer Network website. NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology (NCCN Guidelines): Basal cell skin cancer. Version 1.2020. www.nccn.org/professionals/physician_gls/pdf/nmsc.pdf. Updated October 24, 2020. Accessed February 24, 2020.

US Preventive Services Task Force, Bibbins-Domingo K, Grossman DC, et al. Screening for skin cancer: US Preventive Services Task Force recommendation statement. JAMA. 2016;316(4):429-435. PMID 27458948 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27458948.

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Review Date: 7/12/2019  

Reviewed By: Michael Lehrer, MD, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Dermatology, University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, Philadelphia, PA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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