Basal Cell Carcinoma

Basal Cell Carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer. They arise from basal cells located in the top skin layer (epidermis).

Basal Cell Carcinomas usually develop in sun-exposed areas such as the face, ears, neck and upper body.

What causes Basal Cell Carcinoma?

The major cause of Basal Cell Carcinoma is long term exposure to sunlight. These skin cancers are most common in sun exposed areas of the skin. However, up to 20% of basal cell carcinomas occur in areas which are not exposed to sunlight. We have detected BCCs under the arms, in the scalp, and even on toes.

Basal cell carcinomas have also been known to arise in areas of previous scar (such as an old vaccination scar).

Other rarer causes of Basal Cell Carcinoma include exposure to arsenic, or complications from burns or even tattoos.

Am I at risk of developing Basal Cell Carcinoma?

Anyone who has had frequent sun exposure can develop Basal Cell Carcinoma.

These skin cancers usually arise from cumulative sun exposure over time, so outdoor workers who spend long hours in the sun are at risk.

More recently, basal cell carcinomas have also been linked to intermittent, intense exposure to sunlight (such as persons with office jobs who get high sunlight exposure on the weekends)

People most at risk of Basal Cell Carcinoma tend to have fair skin, blond or red hair and blue, green or grey eyes.

Although these skin cancers were typically thought to only affect the older population, there has been an increase in cases affecting younger age groups, even as young as teenage years.

What does Basal Cell Carcinoma look like?

Basal Cell Carcinomas may appears as:

  • A pinkish patch which is usually flat and persists
  • A pinkish lump which may be shiny or pearly
  • A sore that does not heal
  • A spot that bleeds easily
  • A scar like area or thickening that slowly grows
Pictures of Basal Cell Carcinoma in West Australians
Basal Cell Carcinoma Treatment

After a basal cell carcinoma is suspected, the diagnosis can be confirmed with a biopsy. This is where a small sample is taken to a specialist laboratory to be examined under a microscope with special stains. The laboratory may also be able to assess the pattern of growth / subtype of basal cell carcinoma and also how far it extends into the layers of the skin.

Most Basal Cell Carcinomas need to be treated with Surgical Excision. However, depending on the subtype and extent of the basal cell carcinoma, some may be able to be treated with other modalities. This may include electrodessication and serial curettage, photodynamic therapy or topical agents (creams).

What happens if a Basal Cell Carcinoma is not treated?

If left untreated, basal cell carcinoma will continue to grow wider and deeper, may ulcerate and bleed, and may also grow along nerves in delicate structures such as ears and eyes. When detected late, extensive surgery may be required. Radiotherapy may also be used if deeper growth is detected. Basal cell carcinomas rarely spread internally to other parts of the body.