Basal Cell Carcinoma, referred to by most as BCC, is the most common type of skin cancer. It is widely known that Melanoma is the deadliest type of skin cancer, but few people are aware that other types of skin cancers exist. While not usually deadly, these other cancers are still dangerous and must be treated as soon as possible.
Historically BCC is more prevalent in caucasian men over 40. However, the prevalence of BCC increases yearly, due to an aging baby-boomer population as well as an increase in typical UV exposure from factors such as inadequate sun protection and ozone depletion.
Once a BCC is diagnosed, the risk of developing a second BCC increases significantly. This risk is increased for those who are diagnosed at a young age, or those with personal or family history of any kind of cancer. With the frequency of BCC on the rise, early diagnosis and prevention is becoming increasingly important.
The most common cause of BCC is chronic overexposure to the sun. People with fair skin, a tendency to burn easily, or have a family history of BCC or other skin cancers are at increased risk. Less common risk factors are exposure to arsenic or radiation, or chronic immunosuppression such as in transplant recipients or those with HIV.
There are several types of BCC, many of which can be easily mistaken for Melanoma. It is important to understand the differences when determining treatment options. Some types of BCC may occur more commonly in people with darker complexions who have more melanin (pigments that give skin color) in their skin. The most common types of BCC are:
- Nodular BCC – appears as a shiny pink bump with defined borders and may have areas of pigmentation
- Superficial BCC – patches of red, scaly irritation that can resemble eczema
- Ulcerating BCC – a hard, translucent bump with crust over the center of the area, which may bleed
- Pigmented BCC – a dark spot that can appear brown or blue, and has a firm surface
Some warning signs of BCC include:
- An open sore that does not heal even after several weeks
- A patch of red skin, that may or may not be irritated, that does not go away
- A new shiny bump that can appear red, white, brown, or the same color as your skin
- A pink growth with a crust at the center, sometimes with visible blood vessels
- A waxy area resembling a scar, that can appear white, yellow, or translucent
- Diagnosis of BCC is made by a dermatologist after analyzing a biopsy of the area.
Typically, treatment for a BCC is performed on an outpatient basis, depending on the location of the BCC and the overall health of the patient. “High risk” locations for BCC are the skin around the eyes, mouth, ears, and scalp. These areas have a high rate of recurrence and risk of functional or cosmetic impairment. Delaying treatment or removal of BCC can result in extensive damage to surrounding skin, and possibly allowing the cancer to metastasize to other organs and tissues.
In some instances, a BCC may need to be surgically removed. Under local anesthetic, the malignant tissue is excised and sent for pathological analysis. This method is usually necessary if the BCC is in a high-risk area or more aggressive treatment against the BCC has been warranted. Less invasive treatment options can include topical agents, cryotherapy, or phototherapy.
Protection from sun damage is the first step to preventing the development of BCC. Early detection is critical in order to avoid more extensive treatments or complications, so be aware of any changing or developing spots or lesions on the skin and consult your dermatologist. Skin exams should be regular in order to ensure early detection of any problem areas.