What is a basal cell carcinoma?
Learn about the most common form of skin cancer.
Alexander Pan avatar
Written by Alexander Pan
Updated over a week ago

Skin cancer occurs when skin cells grow abnormally, generally due to overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. There are three major types of skin cancer: squamous cell carcinoma, basal cell carcinoma, and melanoma.

In this article, we'll be focusing on basal cell carcinoma, what it is, the signs and symptoms of the cancer, risk factors of getting it, treatment options, and ways to prevent getting it.

Just remember that if you need support or someone to talk to, our Sonder support team is available 24/7 to chat whenever you need it.

What is basal cell carcinoma?

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common and least dangerous type of skin cancer, accounting for about three of every four non-melanoma skin cancer cases. BCC starts in the basal cells of the skin’s top layer (the epidermis) and grows slowly over months and years. This form of skin cancer rarely spreads to other parts of the body but can grow deeper into the skin if left untreated, resulting in nerve and tissue damage and making treatment more difficult.

There are three types of BCC:

  • Superficial: confined to the top layers of the skin.

  • Nodular: usually look like a rounded lump.

  • Infiltrating: the most difficult to see, are often not detected until well advanced.

For those who have had BCC previously, there is a 50 per cent chance of developing another one so it's important to regularly undergo skin checks.

Signs of basal cell carcinoma

BCC often has no symptoms and grows slowly without spreading to other parts of the body, which makes it hard to spot. The first signs of a BCC start with a subtle change in the skin, such as a small bump or flat red patch, and this usually develops in areas of the body most exposed to the sun, like the head, face, shoulders, arms, and legs.

Some of the signs of a BCC to look out for include:

  • A pearly spot or lump

  • A scaly, dry area that is shiny and pale or bright pink in colour (although some BCCs are darker)

  • A sore that doesn’t heal

  • A sore that bleeds.

If you notice any changes in your skin, go see your doctor or GP right away.

What causes basal cell carcinoma?

Almost all skin cancers are caused by overexposure to UV radiation from the sun or artificial sources. When unprotected skin is exposed to UV radiation, the structure of the cells starts changing. Too much UV radiation causes the skin to be permanently damaged and will only worsen with each exposure.

Risk of getting basal cell carcinoma

Anyone can get skin cancer but it is more common as you get older. The risk of melanoma is increased for those who have:

  • Unprotected sun exposure

  • A history of tanning and sunburn, especially during childhood and adolescence

  • Lots of moles

  • Atypical moles

  • Already had a skin cancer

  • Fair skin, red hair, blue eyes or skin that burns easily

  • A family history of melanoma, especially if they developed it at a young age (i.e. less than 40)

  • A weakened immune system

  • Certain genetic variations that can be inherited in families.

Treatment for basal cell carcinoma

BCCs are almost always successfully treated. The treatment will depend on factors such as the BCC's type, size, and location, as well as the patient's age and overall health. The doctor will take these factors into account when recommending the best course of treatment.

  • Excisional surgery

  • Mohs surgery

  • Cryosurgery

  • Curettage and electrodesiccation (electrosurgery)

  • Laser surgery

  • Radiation therapy

  • Photodynamic therapy (PDT)

  • Topical medications.

Prevention of getting basal cell carcinoma

Skin cancer is preventable so it's important to stay safe and to know your skin so you notice any changes and can react quickly. Make sun protection a top priority and make sure you:

  • Wear sun-protective clothing that covers your shoulders, neck, arms, legs and body.

  • Wear a hat that shades your face, neck, and ears.

  • Wear wrap-around sunglasses.

  • Use SPF 50+ or higher sunscreen that's broad-spectrum and water-resistant.

  • Seek shade whenever possible, especially during the hottest part of the day.

  • Regular skin cancer checks

If you have any questions or need extra support, we're here to help you anytime in any language. Simply start a chat with us via the home screen of the Sonder app.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

All content is created and published for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. Always seek the guidance of a qualified health professional.

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