Basal cell carcinoma is a type of skin cancer that is most likely to develop on those parts of the body that are frequently exposed to the sun. It is particularly common in people with fair skin. It is the least dangerous type of skin cancer, and the patient has an excellent chance of being cured if they catch it early. While basal cell carcinoma is unlikely to metastasize or spread to other parts of the body, it can attack tissues directly under the affected skin. It is a slow-growing cancer, which also gives the patient a better chance of surviving.
What are the symptoms?
A basal cell carcinoma initially looks like a “pearly” small bump. It usually appears on the nose or some other part of the face, but it can also develop on the arms, legs, or trunk. The carcinoma can also look like a pimple — but it doesn’t go away.
A basal cell carcinoma can also look like a dome-shaped growth with blood vessels in it. This type can be pink, brown or black. Other carcinomas will be shiny, scaly patches of pink or red skin. Some other carcinomas will be waxy and hard. Whatever they look like, basal cell carcinomas tend to bleed easily.
What causes a basal cell carcinoma?
The chief cause of a basal cell carcinoma is exposure to ultraviolet rays, be they from the sun or a tanning bed. The UV rays damage the DNA in the skin cells, and thus eventually causes them to grow in an abnormal way.
Since the process takes many years, most patients with basal cell carcinoma are older. Sunburns, of course, increase the risk of developing a basal cell carcinoma.
Ways to prevent basal cell carcinoma
Since basal cell carcinoma is caused by prolonged exposure to UV rays, people, especially those with fair skin, need to avoid tanning beds and limit their exposure to the sun. Since the sun’s light is at its most intense between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., it is best to stay indoors during these hours.
When outside, it is prudent to use sunscreen that has an SPF of at least 30. The sunscreen should be applied to those parts of the body not covered with clothing every hour or two. Someone who sweats a lot or has been swimming will need to use sunscreen more often. Long sleeves and a broad-brimmed hat will also help protect skin from UV rays.
What is a head-to-toe self-examination?
Most dermatologists recommend that people perform a head-to-toe self-examination once a month to look for signs of skin cancer. As the name suggests, the patient starts with their head and works downward. They will use both full-length and hand-held mirrors to give themselves the best view possible.
Self-exams need to be thorough, and the patient should check such places as the scalp, between the fingers and toes, and the back of the neck. If they find something that looks abnormal, they should call their doctor immediately.
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