Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer. This cancer usually grows slowly and rarely spreads to other tissues in the body.
Basal cell carcinoma is rarely fatal. It is usually treated to reduce the risk of damage to nearby tissue.
Cancer occurs when cells in the body divide without control or order. Eventually these uncontrolled cells form a growth or tumor. The growths invade and take over nearby tissue. It is not clear exactly what causes these problems in the cells, but is probably a combination of genetics and environment.
Areas of skin that are damaged have a higher risk of cancer. Skin that is regularly exposed to the sun is most likely to develop skin cancer. Basal cell carcinoma may also develop in skin that has scars, burns, or inflammatory skin diseases.
Factors that may increase the chances of basal cell carcinoma:
Symptoms of basal cell carcinoma may vary between people. Common symptoms include:
The doctor will ask about symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. This includes a thorough examination of the skin and any skin lesions.
Samples of skin lesions can be biopsied and examined under a microscope for the presence of cancer. A biopsy will also help determine the stage and type of the cancer if it is present. The information will be used to guide treatment and make a prognosis.
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Treatment options include:
Other treatments may be used based on the size or microscopic findings of the cancer. In some cases, surgery may not be an option. Other treatments may include:
To help reduce the chances of basal cell carcinoma:
If you see any changes in your skin, such as new growths or changes in moles or freckles, contact your doctor for a skin exam.
American Academy of Dermatology
Skin Cancer Foundation
Canadian Cancer Society
Canadian Dermatology Association
Alberta Provincial Cutaneous Tumour Team. Prevention of skin cancer. Edmonton (Alberta): CancerControl Alberta; 2013 Feb. 27 p. (Clinical practice guideline; no. CU-014). Available at: https://www.guideline.gov/summaries/summary/48130?#Section420.
Basal cell carcinoma. American Academy of Dermatology website. Available at: https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/skin-cancer/basal-cell-carcinoma. Accessed March 6, 2018.
Basal cell carcinoma. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at:
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Updated February 2017. Accessed March 6, 2018.
Basal cell carcinoma of the skin. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T113813/Basal-cell-carcinoma-of-the-skin . Updated February 27, 2018. Accessed March 6, 2018.
Sunscreen FAQs. American Academy of Dermatology website. Available at: https://www.aad.org/media/stats/prevention-and-care/sunscreen-faqs. Accessed March 6, 2018.
Last reviewed March 2018 by
EBSCO Medical Review Board
Monica Zangwill, MD, MPH
Last Updated: 3/6/2018