Basal Cell Carcinoma (Skin Cancer)

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common type of skin cancer. More than 2 million people in the U.S. are diagnosed with this condition each year. Excessive sun exposure is the major risk factor leading to the development of this disease. This type of tumor can look like a reddish, scaly patch of skin, a bleeding or oozing sore that keeps recurring, or a flesh colored, pearly, or brownish bump. Because the tumor can have so many different appearances, it may be mistaken for another skin condition. Having a dermatologist inspect any area of abnormal skin is important for catching this cancer early.

Although less than 1% of basal cell carcinomas metastasize and spread throughout the body, they are still very destructive. The longer the tumor is left to grow, the more damage it causes to skin and underlying tissue. Removal during the early stages is simple and leaves only a small scar. Late removal may require plastic surgery such as skin grafts to repair the site. This can lead to significant disfigurement of the nose, ears, lips, or eyelids.

Treatment Options

  • Aldara (imiquimod) is applied as a cream over a period of six weeks. It destroys the cancerous cells in the epidermis and causes the affected skin to flake away over time. The medication may also help the immune system attack the cancer cells. The cure rate is over 90%.
  • Electrodessication and curettage may be performed to scrape away the tumor and burn the affected site. This approach is effective about 80-90% of the time.
  • Surgical excision of the tumor (including a margin of unaffected tissue to make sure the whole tumor is removed) is a 100% effective treatment. Mohs micrographic surgery may be done if the tumor has grown deep into the skin.

Cryosurgery, certain chemical peels, laser surgery, and radiation are other possible therapies for basal cell carcinoma. The recommended treatment will depend on the location, size, and depth of the tumor and your tolerance for discomfort, scarring, and other side effects.