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:
A personal history of skin cancer
sunburns, freckling, or long periods of sun exposure
Frequent use of tanning beds
Blonde or red hair
Blue or green eyes
Fair skin that rarely tans
A family history of skin cancer
Treatment that suppresses the immune system, such as having an organ transplant
Certain rare genetic disorders, such as Gorlin’s syndrome
Symptoms of basal cell carcinoma may vary between people. Common symptoms include:
A sore that may crust, bleed, or ooze for more than 3 weeks without healing
A raised, red patch that may be itchy
A shiny bump that can be pearl-like in appearance or, less often, dark in color, much like a mole
A pink growth with a slightly raised border and dip in the middle
A patch of skin that seems shiny and tight, much like a scar
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
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.
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: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/dermatologic-disorders/cancers-of-the-skin/basal-cell-carcinoma. Updated February 2017. Accessed March 6, 2018.
EBSCO Information Services is fully accredited by URAC. URAC is an independent, nonprofit health care accrediting organization dedicated to promoting health care quality through accreditation, certification and commendation.
This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.
To send comments or feedback to our Editorial Team regarding the content please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our Health Library Support team will respond to your email request within 2 business days.