Basal cell carcinoma forms in the outer layer of the skin, called the epidermis. There is some debate about from which cells the cancer originates, but recent research points to epidermal stem cells as the culprit. The cancer was named after basal cells located in the lower part of the epidermis as the cancer cells look like basal cells under a microscope.
Basal cell carcinoma is one of the most common forms of skin cancer worldwide. According to the American Cancer Society, about 5.4 million basal and squamous cell skin cancers are diagnosed each year and approximately 8 out of 10 of those are basal cell carcinoma. But where does it originate and how does it form?
How it forms
Most basal cell carcinomas are a result of long-time, repeated sun-exposure or occasional intense sun-exposure. That’s why the cancer is most common on areas of the skin regularly exposed to the sun, including the face, neck, scalp, shoulders, back and ears. Other rarer causes include exposure to radiation (especially arsenic), open sores that won’t heal, vaccinations or chronic inflammatory skin conditions.
Anyone can develop this type of cancer but it is more common in light-skinned individuals with blonde or red hair and light green or blue eyes. It most frequently occurs in elderly males, but it can also occur in younger males and females. If a family has a history of basal cell naevus syndrome, Bazex-Dupré-Christol syndrome, Rombo syndrome, Oley syndrome or xeroderma pigmentosum they are at a greater risk for developing the cancer.
Basal cell carcinoma typically presents itself as:
· a waxy or pearly white bump or nodule on the face, ears or neck. These bumps may bleed or develop a crust.
· brown, blue or black lesions or pigmented areas with slightly raised, translucent borders.
· a slowly growing flat, brown or red patch that can look similar to eczema.
· a pink growth with an indented center. As it grows, tiny blood vessels may be visible.
· an open sore that won’t heal and may bleed, ooze and crust.
· a waxy looking scar or a thickening of skin tissue. This is rarer and a sign of infiltrative or morpheaform basal cell cancers.
In general, basal cell carcinoma is a slow growing cancer and it is rare for it to metastasize to other areas of the body. It will usually only spread to surrounding tissues in the skin or bone.
After a doctor examines the carcinoma, a biopsy is needed to confirm the cancer. If tumor cells are visible, treatment is required. Treatment will vary based on the type, size, depth and location of the carcinoma as well as individual patient concerns. The cancer is most commonly treated through surgery on an outpatient basis in a physician’s clinic or office.
Learn more about treatment options in our previous post.
Limiting time spent in the sun, wearing sunscreen and protective clothing and checking the skin regularly for new spots or moles is the key to preventing and catching basal cell carcinoma early. If you have any suspicions about any marks, lesions or bumps on your skin, be sure to contact a doctor immediately for a second opinion. While basal cell carcinoma is rarely a life-threatening cancer, it can still pose a serious risk to your skin and, in some instances, bone and cartilage, if left untreated.