What is basal cell carcinoma?

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common form of skin cancer and the most frequently occurring. If left untreated, the cancer can spread into other areas of the body. Those who are not treated properly can have recurrent basal cell carcinoma in the same area and are more likely to have it in the future.

It is caused by sun damage, which can lead to the body’s basal cells – a type of cell in the lower part of the skin – to mutate in the upper layer of the skin, resulting in uncontrolled growth.


What causes basal cell carcinoma?

Currently, about 8 in 10 diagnosed skin cancers are basal cell carcinoma. Because basal cell cancer grows slowly, most are curable and cause minimal damage when caught and treated early.

Understanding basal cell carcinoma causes, risk factors and warning signs can help you prevent the disease or detect it early, when it is easiest to treat.

Exposure to UV rays from the sun and indoor tanning is the major cause of basal cell carcinoma and most skin cancers. About 90% of non-melanoma skin cancers (mainly basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinomas) are associated with UV radiation.

More on: Causes of basal cell carcinoma


What are the symptoms?

Check for basal cell carcinoma where your skin is most exposed to the sun, especially the face, ears, neck, scalp, chest, shoulders and back, but remember that they can occur anywhere on the body. 

Frequently, two or more of these warning signs are visible in a tumor.

  1. An open sore that does not heal, and may bleed, ooze or crust
  2. A red patch or irritated area, that might be itchy (itchy bcc)
  3. A shiny bump or nodule that is pearly or clear, pink, tan, red or white, sometimes mistaken for a regular mole
  4. A pink growth with a raised edge and a lower area in the center that may develop tiny surface blood vessels over time
  5. A scar-like area that is white, yellow or waxy in color with slightly elevated edge, sometimes a warning sign that may indicate invasive BCC

More on: BCC symptoms


How SkinVision can help with BCC

Taking care of the skin is not just a matter of aesthetics, it is a matter of health. The earlier the skin cancer is detected, the easier it is to treat. Learning about the warning signs on your skin gives you the power to detect cancer early when it’s easiest to cure.

SkinVision can be used as an important tool in screening skin cancer or tracking changes in suspicious skin spots.

Always check your whole skin and look for new or changing lesions that increase in size, bleed or do not heal.

More on: What is bcc?

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Frequently asked questions about BCC

They can be a pink, skin-colored or light brown nodule that slowly grows on the skin, and that gradually increases in size.

Often a dark crust develops in the middle, which already bleeds with a light touch. The tissue of the lesion can be glassy, ​​shiny and sometimes with blood vessels underneath that are visible.

Wounds that do not heal can also be warning signs for that skin cancer.

In some people, Basal cell carcinoma can have the same characteristics as
noncancerous skin conditions such as psoriasis or eczema. It can also resemble a scarlike lesion.

As they are typically painless, they can be mistaken for a benign lesion.

Since not all basal cell carcinomas have the same appearance, the images on our website serve as a general reference to what they look like and warning signs to look out for.

Awareness about the harmful changes in your skin makes it possible to detect suspicious lesions and diagnose skin cancer at an early stage, when it is easier to treat.

Check for basal cell carcinomas in sun-exposed areas in your body , especially the face, ears, neck, scalp, chest, shoulders and back, but remember that they can occur anywhere on the body.

If in doubt, have your skin lesion checked. Follow up on new or changing lesions that grow, bleed or do not heal.

There are different types of basal cell skin cancers. These include:

  • nodular basal cell skin cancer
  • pigmented basal cell skin cancer
Unlike melanoma, which usually develops from an existing mole, basal cell carcinoma develops from the basal cells. These are the skin cells that lie at the bottom layer of the epidermis and surround the hair follicles.

Which areas are affected?

Basal cell carcinoma develops in the skin that is most frequently exposed to the sun. Because of this, it is commonly found on the nose, forehead, and cheeks. Though it sometimes develops on the back and lower legs too.

Who is affected by basal cell carcinoma?

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) can affect people of all ages, but it most commonly affects people who are middle-aged or elderly.

Are there any other names for basal cell carcinoma?

As well as being known as basal cell carcinoma or BCC, this type of cancer is often referred to as basal cell skin cancer. The lesion that develops is also known as a rodent ulcer.

What are the signs and symptoms of this type of cancer?

Basal cell carcinomas usually start as small lumps that gradually get bigger over time. The edges are often shiny or pearly, and the middle tends to be somewhat sunken in or depressed. After some time, the center will start to become crusty and develop into an ulcer. Basal cell carcinomas do not usually cause any pain or discomfort; however, they can be slightly itchy. If they are scratched, they will tend to bleed, but otherwise, they are known to be pain-free. Is basal cell carcinoma itchy?

What happens to a BCC that is left untreated?

Without treatment, the BCC will grow in size, getting deeper as well as bigger. The tissue around the area may get infected too, bone tissue and cartilage are often affected if a BCC is not treated. In Australia and Europe, it is unlikely that a rodent ulcer will develop to the stage where it is affecting the tissue around it. This form of skin cancer is usually caught early on in these countries, and treatment has a very high success rate.

Are there a number of different types of BCC?

There are several different types of BCC, but the most common is the nodular type, with around half of diagnosed BCCs being classed as nodular. You can also get superficial, morphotic, and pigmented BCCs.
  • Nodular – single, shiny, red nodules. Often on the face.
  • Superficial – Often multiple, common on back and shoulders. Tend to be larger than 20mm at presentation. Lesions may weep and bleed.
  • Morphotic – Often found on the face. Lesions are aggressive with poorly defined borders and thick yellow plaque. Often very large on presentation.
  • Pigmented – Lesions are brown, blue, or grey. More common in those with darker skin. It can resemble malignant melanoma.
Because several of these types of BCC are rather large on presentation, you must perform regular skin checks. This means you can start treatment as soon as possible. Because basal cell carcinomas occur in the deep layers of the skin, it can take some time for the lesions to present themselves. As they are also painless, it is only when the lesions are visible that we know to seek medical help. By performing regular skin checks and familiarizing yourself with the symptoms of skin cancer, you will be able to act quickly. How does basal cell carcinoma form?

Can basal cell skin cancer develop into secondary cancer?

It is incredibly rare for basal cell skin cancer to develop into secondary cancer, but it is possible to have several BCCs at any given time. If you have one BCC, the likelihood of you developing another one is higher.

How is basal cell carcinoma diagnosed?

Like any form of skin cancer, the only way for your doctor to establish a diagnosis is through a biopsy. Your doctor will examine the area, and if there is any possibility that the lesions are a result of skin cancer, they will arrange for you to have a biopsy as soon as possible. During a biopsy, the whole growth or part of it will be removed.

How is BCC treated?

If the biopsy shows that you have skin cancer, then you will need to have the growth or lesion removed as a matter of urgency. The most common method for treating BCC is excision. During this procedure, the area is numbed, and then the affected area is cut away, along with some of the healthy-looking skin around it. The tumor and normal skin cells will then be examined. If the normal-looking skin cells are free from cancer cells, then no further treatment will be needed at that time. If the normal-looking skin cells have been affected, then you will need to have another excision. Other methods of treating BCC include medicated creams, which are used to treat the early stages of basal cell carcinoma. This can be applied at home. Radiation therapy is used in rare cases when surgery is not an option. It often takes 15 to 30 sessions to treat basal cell skin cancer successfully. Cryosurgery is used in some cases, and the use of electricity to kill the cancer cells (electrodesiccation) is also an effective method of treatment. Mohs surgery is used for difficult-to-treat basal cell skin cancer. It involves the surgeon examining skin cells under the microscope to establish what is healthy skin tissue and what has been infected by cancer cells.


Basal cell carcinoma is very easy to treat and survival rates are high. If BCC is left untreated, then it can soon become destructive, invading other tissues and causing permanent disfigurement. Be sure to perform regular skin checks to keep yourself self from the damaging and destructive elements of basal cell carcinomas.