Basal cell carcinoma is a type of skin cancer that begins in the basal cells, the part of the skin that regenerates new skin cells as the old cells die off. While basal cell carcinoma is a serious illness, it’s also highly preventable. You should be knowledgeable on how it occurs, how it is treated, and possibly how to prevent it.
Basal cell carcinoma most often develops on the areas with the most exposure to the sun, typically the face and neck, although it can occur in other areas as well. The first sign of this type of cancer is usually a flesh colored, waxy bump that bleeds, repeatedly scabbing over and then opening again. However, it can also appear as a pearly white bump, a scaly brown patch of skin, or occasionally a white scar.
Since basal cell carcinoma is linked to long-term UV radiation exposure, the most effective way to prevent this cancer from developing is by wearing sunscreen that is SPF 30+ any time you’re out in the sun. If you have children, it is important to protect them as well, since the risk for basal cell carcinoma is higher when the sun exposure occurred prior to age 18. You should always avoid commercial tanning beds. Sun protection is especially important for those at high risk for developing basal cell carcinoma, which includes people who have psoriasis, those with fair skin, men, those older than age 50, and people with a family history of skin cancer. Those who take certain medications or who have been exposed to arsenic in the course of their career are also at risk for basal cell carcinoma.
If you notice an unusual growth on your skin, your dermatologist can perform an examination to determine whether it may indicate basal cell carcinoma. He or she may also do a biopsy–removing cells from the growth and performing lab tests to determine whether they are malignant. If basal cell carcinoma is detected, the most common treatment is removal of the growth and any underlying cancerous cells with an outpatient surgical procedure. In some cases, medication may be prescribed to keep the carcinoma from spreading.
Protecting yourself from the sun is the single most important step you can take to prevent this cancer from developing. You should wear sunscreen of at least SPF 30 year round, and avoid the strong midday sun whenever possible. In addition, familiarize yourself with any markings on your skin so that you can see your doctor right away if you notice anything unusual. Skin cancer is highly treatable, especially if it is detected early.
At Dermatology Associates, our highly trained clinicians can help you with skin exams as well as detection and prevention of skin cancer. If you have any questions or concerns, contact us today to schedule a consultation.