Basal Cell Carcinoma

What is a BCC?

Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer. The American Cancer Society informs us that about 8 out of 10 skin cancers will be basal cell carcinomas, and reports that “[m]ore than 4 million cases of basal cell carcinoma are diagnosed in the U.S. each year. In fact, BCC is the most frequently occurring form of all cancers. More than one out of every three new cancers is a skin cancer, and the vast majority are BCCs.” Similar to some other types of skin cancer, BCCs typically develop on sun-exposed skin, most often the head and neck. However, a BCC can occur on almost any area of the body. BCCs usually grow slowly, and rarely spread throughout the body. If not treated in a timely manner, however, they can grow extensively and even spread throughout the body and cause death.

What to look for?

An open sore that bleeds, oozes, or crusts and remains open for a few weeks, only to heal up and then bleed again. A persistent, non–healing sore is a very common sign of an early BCC.

A reddish patch or seemingly irritated area of skin, frequently occurring on the face, chest, shoulders, arms, or legs. Sometimes a crust forms atop the lesion. While BCCs are most often asymptomatic, they may itch or be tender to the touch.

A shiny bump or nodule that is pearly or clear and is often pink, red or skin-colored. The bump can also be tan, black, or brown, and may be confused with a normal mole or a melanoma.

A pink growth with a slightly elevated, rolled border and a crusted indentation in the center. As the growth slowly enlarges, tiny blood vessels may develop on the surface.

A scar-like area that is white, yellow or waxy, and often has poorly defined borders; the skin itself appears shiny and taut. This warning sign may indicate the presence of an invasive BCC that is larger than it appears to be on the surface (

If not removed completely, basal cell carcinomas recur (come back) in the same place on the skin. People who have had basal cell skin cancers are also more likely to get new ones in other places. It is very important to remember that these can be very subtle. If have any question whether you may have a skin cancer, see a board-certified dermatologist and obtain an examination. There is never any harm in seeing a dermatologist, but there can be great harm in not being waiting to be seen.

According to Christopher Messana, DO a Cleveland Clinic fellowship-trained skin cancer surgeon/Mohs surgeon with Elevated Dermatology and Skin Cancer Surgery Center in Parker, Colorado “when BCCs are detected and treated early and properly people do very well. When neglected or unidentified for several years, and sometimes in individuals with genetic disorders or who do not have a normally-functioning immune system, BCCs can be substantially disfiguring and may rarely even lead to death.”

So how do you check your skin? What else should you look for? Stay tuned for next week as we discuss the ABCDE’s of skin care.

(Pictures taken from