Basal cell carcinoma; Rodent ulcer; Skin cancer - basal cell; Cancer - skin - basal cell; Nonmelanoma skin cancer; Basal cell NMSC; Basal cell epithelioma
Basal cell cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. Most skin cancers are basal cell cancer.
Basal cell cancer is almost always slow-growing.
Other common types of skin cancer are:
The top layer of the skin is called the epidermis. The bottom layer of the epidermis is the basal cell layer. With basal cancer, cells in this layer are the ones that become cancerous. Most basal cell cancers occur on skin that is regularly exposed to sunlight or other ultraviolet radiation.
This type of skin cancer is most common in people over age 40. But it can also occur in younger people who have had extensive sun exposure.
You are more likely to get basal cell cancer if you have:
Basal cell cancer grows slowly and is usually painless. It may not look that different from your normal skin. You may have a skin bump or growth that is:
In some cases, the skin is just slightly raised, or even flat.
You may have:
Your doctor will check your skin and look at the size, shape, color, and texture of any suspicious areas.
If your doctor thinks you might have skin cancer, a piece of skin will be removed. This is called a skin biopsy. The sample is sent to a lab for examination under a microscope.
A skin biopsy must be done to confirm basal cell cancer or other skin cancers.
Treatment depends on the size, depth, and location of the skin cancer, and your overall health.
Treatment may involve any of the following:
You can ease the stress of illness by joining a cancer support group. Sharing with others who have common experiences and problems can help you not feel alone.
Most of these cancers are cured when treated early. Some basal cell cancers return. Smaller ones are less likely to come back.
Basal cell skin cancer almost never spreads. If it is left untreated, it may spread into surrounding areas and nearby tissues and bone. In these cases, treatment can injure the appearance of the skin.
Call for an appointment with your health care provider if you have a sore or spot on your skin that changes in:
Also call your provider if a spot becomes painful or swollen, or if it starts to bleed or itch.
The American Cancer Society recommends that a provider examines your skin every year if you are older than 40 and every 3 years if you are 20 to 40 years old. You should also examine your own skin once a month.
The best way to prevent skin cancer is to reduce your exposure to sunlight. Always use sunscreen:
Other measures to help you avoid too much sun exposure:
National Cancer Institute: PDQ Skin Cancer Treatment. Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute. Date last modified July 15, 2015. http://www.cancer.gov/types/skin/hp/skin-treatment-pdq#section/_222. Accessed September 10, 2015.
National Comprehensive Cancer Network. NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology (NCCN Guidelines): Basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers. Version 1.2015. http://www.nccn.org/professionals/physician_gls/pdf/nmsc.pdf. Accessed September 10, 2015.
Spencer JM, Walls BM. Basal cell carcinoma. In: Lebwohl MG, Heymann WR, Berth-Jones J, Coulson I, eds. Treatment of Skin Disease: Comprehensive Therapeutic Strategies. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 22.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration. FDA sheds light on sunscreens. Last updated February 13, 2015. http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm258416.htm. Accessed September 10, 2015.
Last reviewed on: 7/23/2015
Reviewed by: Kevin Berman, MD, PhD, Atlanta Center for Dermatologic Disease, Atlanta, GA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.