Basal cell carcinoma

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Overview

Basal cell carcinoma is a type of skin cancer that most often develops on areas of skin exposed to the sun, such as the face. On brown and Black skin, basal cell carcinoma often looks like a bump that's brown or glossy black and has a rolled border. Basal cell carcinoma is a type of skin cancer.

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common form of skin cancer and the most frequently occurring form of all cancers. In the U.S. alone, an estimated 3.6 million cases are diagnosed each year. BCCs arise from abnormal, uncontrolled growth of basal cells.


Because BCCs grow slowly, most are curable and cause minimal damage when caught and treated early. Understanding BCC causes, risk factors and warning signs can help you detect them early, when they are easiest to treat and cure.

Symptoms

Symptoms

A shiny, skin-colored bump that's translucent, meaning you can see a bit through the surface. ...

A brown, black or blue lesion — or a lesion with dark spots — with a slightly raised, translucent border.

A flat, scaly patch with a raised edge. ...

A white, waxy, scar-like lesion without a clearly defined border.

Causes

Basal cell carcinoma occurs when one of the skin's basal cells develops a mutation in its DNA.


Basal cells are found at the bottom of the epidermis — the outermost layer of skin. Basal cells produce new skin cells. As new skin cells are produced, they push older cells toward the skin's surface, where the old cells die and are sloughed off.


The process of creating new skin cells is controlled by a basal cell's DNA. The DNA contains the instructions that tell a cell what to do. The mutation tells the basal cell to multiply rapidly and continue growing when it would normally die. Eventually the accumulating abnormal cells may form a cancerous tumor — the lesion that appears on the skin.


Ultraviolet light and other causes

Much of the damage to DNA in basal cells is thought to result from ultraviolet (UV) radiation found in sunlight and in commercial tanning lamps and tanning beds. But sun exposure doesn't explain skin cancers that develop on skin not ordinarily exposed to sunlight. Other factors can contribute to the risk and development of basal cell carcinoma, and the exact cause may in some cases not be clear.

Risk factors

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is caused by damage and subsequent DNA changes to the basal cells in the outermost layer of skin. Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun and indoor tanning is the major cause of BCCs and most skin cancers.


Understanding what causes BCC and the factors that increase your risk of getting it can help you prevent the disease or detect it in its earliest stages, when it’s easiest to treat.


These factors increase your BCC risk:


UV exposure from the sun or indoor tanning.

History of skin cancer, including squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) or melanoma.

Age over 50: Most BCCs appear in people over age 50.

Fair skin: People with fair skin have an increased risk.

Male gender: Men are more likely to develop BCC.

Chronic infections and skin inflammation from burns, scars and other conditions.


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Complications

Complications of basal cell carcinoma can include:


A risk of recurrence. Basal cell carcinomas commonly recur, even after successful treatment.

An increased risk of other types of skin cancer. A history of basal cell carcinoma may also increase the chance of developing other types of skin cancer, such as squamous cell carcinoma.

Cancer that spreads beyond the skin. Very rarely, basal cell carcinoma can spread (metastasize) to nearby lymph nodes and other areas of the body, such as the bones and lungs.

Prevention

To reduce your risk of basal cell carcinoma you can:


Avoid the sun during the middle of the day. In many places, the sun's rays are strongest between about 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Schedule outdoor activities for other times of the day, even during winter or when the sky is cloudy.

Wear sunscreen year-round. Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, even on cloudy days. Apply sunscreen generously, and reapply every two hours — or more often if you're swimming or perspiring.

Wear protective clothing. Cover your skin with dark, tightly woven clothing that covers your arms and legs, and a broad-brimmed hat, which provides more protection than does a baseball cap or visor.


Some companies also sell protective clothing. A dermatologist can recommend an appropriate brand. Don't forget sunglasses. Look for those that block both types of UV radiation — UVA and UVB rays.


Avoid tanning beds. Tanning beds emit UV rays and can increase your risk of skin cancer.

Check your skin regularly and report changes to your doctor. Examine your skin often for new skin growths or changes in existing moles, freckles, bumps and birthmarks. With the help of mirrors, check your face, neck, ears and scalp.


Examine your chest and trunk and the tops and undersides of your arms and hands. Examine both the front and the back of your legs and your feet, including the soles and the spaces between your toes. Also check your genital area and between your buttocks.