Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is a type of skin cancer that affects the basal cells in the deepest layer of the epidermis. It is the most common skin cancer caused by cumulative and intense sun exposure. BCCs can appear in different conditions, such as open sores, red patches, or shiny bumps, and can be found in any body area.
Unlike Squamous Cell Carcinoma, BCCs are usually not life-threatening but can be disfiguring if not treated promptly. They can invade and damage normal tissues such as cartilage, muscle, and bone, and if left untreated, they can cause severe damage. The best time to treat a BCC is when it is still small and just in the skin.
BCCs are usually diagnosed with a biopsy, where a piece of tissue is taken from the area and sent for histology. However, sometimes the BCC is so clinically apparent that the doctor may recommend removal without a biopsy. Surgical and non-surgical options for treating BCCs include topical treatment, radiotherapy, photodynamic therapy, and lasers. The appropriate treatment depends on factors such as BCC’s subtype, the patient’s health, and the location of the cancer. Therefore, it is essential to talk to a doctor about the best treatment options and be aware of any treatment’s potential risks and side effects.
What is a BCC (Basal Cell Carcinoma)?
BCCs are abnormal, uncontrolled growths or lesions that arise in the skin’s basal cells, which line the deepest layer of the epidermis (the outermost layer of the skin). BCCs are usually caused by cumulative and intense, occasional sun exposure. More than 4 million cases of basal cell carcinoma are diagnosed each year. BCC is the most frequently occurring form of all cancers. More than one of every three new cancers is skin cancer; the vast majority are BCCs.
What do BCC’s look like?
These skin cancers can appear differently, depending on site, subtype and skin characteristics. They can be:
- open sores that do not heal and recurrently scab or bleed
- red patches that do not resolve
- pink or pearly nodular growths, mimicking a ‘new’ mole
- shiny bumps or lumps on the skin with or without pigmentation
- scars in an area that has not had any history of trauma
Are BCC’s lethal?
BCC rarely spreads (metastasises) beyond the original tumour site. Only in exceedingly rare cases can it spread to other parts of the body and become life-threatening. This cancer is also slow-growing and often occurs for months before it is noticed. It shouldn’t be taken lightly, though: it can be disfiguring if not treated promptly. BCC’s invade and ‘eat away’ normal tissues (such as cartilage, muscle and bone) as it grows broader and more profound, thus if neglected and not treated appropriately, one can lose an eye, a nose, an ear or even digits and limbs if it is allowed to grow. The best time to treat a BCC is when it is still small and just in the skin.
How is a BCC diagnosed?
A BCC is often diagnosed with a biopsy, where a piece of tissue is taken from the area and sent for histology. However, sometimes the BCC is so clinically apparent that your doctor may recommend removal without a biopsy.
How is a BCC treated?
There are both surgical and non-surgical approaches to treating a BCC. The non-surgical options include topical treatment with Imiquimod, radiotherapy, photodynamic therapy (PDT), and lasers. Surgical methods include simple excision, curettage and desiccation, Moh’s surgery or excision with a frozen section. The appropriate form of treatment for a BCC depends on several factors, such as the subtype of BCC, the patient’s fitness for surgery, the site of cancer, and much more. Each modality of treatment has its pros, cons and limitations. To find your options and the best modality for you, talk to your surgeon during your consultation and ask for their recommendation.