Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer in the United States, and also the most common type of cancer overall. According to the National Institutes of Health, basal cell carcinoma accounts for about 75 percent of all skin cancers.
Basal cell carcinoma has a high cure rate (about 95 percent when caught early) and rarely spreads to distant parts of the body. If untreated, however, it can continue to grow and may eventually spread to nearby tissues, including the nerves, bones, and brain.
About 800,000 Americans are diagnosed with this type of cancer annually, a number that has been growing steadily in recent years. The disease is most common in older men who had worked outdoors for many years, but the number of women diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma has been increasing and the average age at diagnosis has been dropping.
Sun exposure is the cause of basal cell carcinoma. You may want to read about skin cancer Prevention & Early Detection.
Getting older and spending time in the sun without adequately protecting your skin are the two biggest risk factors for basal cell carcinoma.
Most people who get basal cell carcinoma are diagnosed after the age of 40, and most of these cancers are found on areas of skin that are regularly exposed to the sun, such as the ears, face, neck, shoulders, back, and scalp.
Other risk factors include:
- Having fair skin; blond or red hair; and blue, green or gray eyes.
- Overexposure to X-rays or other types of radiation.
There are five warning signs for basal cell carcinoma that you should watch for. These include:
- A persistent open sore that does not heal and bleeds, crusts, or oozes
- A reddish patch, typically on the chest, shoulders, arms or legs, which may crust, itch, or hurt
- A shiny bump that resembles a mole but can be pink, red, white, tan, black, or brown
- A pink growth with an elevated border and a crusted indentation in the center
- A scar-like lesion in an area that you have not injured
You should examine your skin regularly to watch for changes in your skin and for new suspicious growths.
Call your doctor if you notice a change in the color, size, texture, or appearance of a skin lesion, or if you notice bleeding, itching, inflammation, or pain in an existing lesion.
Your doctor will do a biopsy of any suspicious lesions on your skin to determine whether or not they are basal cell carcinoma. Sometimes this skin cancer resembles other skin conditions such as psoriasis or eczema, so a biopsy is necessary to be sure.
If you have had basal cell carcinoma in the past, you should be especially diligent in checking your skin and seeing your doctor for regular exams, as this cancer can reoccur in new sites.