The Most Common Skin Cancer
Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer, affecting 800,000 Americans each year. In fact, it is the most common of all cancers. One out of every three new cancers is a skin cancer, and the vast majority are basal cell carcinomas, often referred to by the abbreviation, BCC. These cancers arise in the basal cells, which are at the bottom of the epidermis (outer skin layer). Until recently, those most often affected were older people, particularly men who had worked outdoors. Although the number of new cases has increased sharply each year in the last few decades, the average age of onset of the disease has steadily decreased. More women are getting BCCs than in the past; nonetheless, men still outnumber them greatly.
The Major Cause
Chronic exposure to sunlight is the cause of almost all basal cell carcinomas, which occur most frequently on exposed parts of the body -- the face, ears, neck, scalp, shoulders, and back. Rarely, however, tumors develop on non-exposed areas. In a few cases, contact with arsenic, exposure to radiation, and complications of burns, scars, vaccinations, or even tattoos are contributing factors.
Who Gets It
Anyone with a history of frequent sun exposure can develop basal cell carcinoma, often referred to as BCC. But people who have fair skin, light hair, and blue, green, or gray eyes are at highest risk. Those whose occupations require long hours outdoors or who spend extensive leisure time in the sun are in particular jeopardy. Dark-skinned individuals are far less likely than fair-skinned to develop skin cancer. More than two-thirds of the skin cancers that they do develop, however, are squamous cell carcinomas, usually arising on the sites of preexisting inflammatory skin conditions or burn injuries.
What to Look For
The five most typical characteristics of basal cell carcinoma are shown below. Frequently, two or more features are present in one tumor. In addition, basal cell carcinoma sometimes resembles non-cancerous skin conditions such as psoriasis or eczema. Only a trained physician, usually a specialist in diseases of the skin, can decide for sure. Learn the signs of basal cell carcinoma, and examine your skin regularly -- as often as once a month if you are at high risk. Be sure to include the scalp, backs of ears, neck, and other hard-to-see areas. (A full-length mirror and a hand-held mirror can be very useful). If you observe any of the warning signs or some other change in your skin, consult your physician immediately. The Skin Cancer Foundation advises people to have a total body skin exam by a qualified skin specialist at regular intervals. The physician will suggest the correct time frame for follow-up visits, depending on your specific risk factors, such as skin type and history of sun expsure.
(above information, except photographs, from Skin Cancer Foundation)
Basal Cell Carcinoma Treatment
Basal cell skin cancers are best treated early, when they are small, because it is much simpler to remove a small growth than a large one. Surgical removal of basal cell skin cancers is almost 100% curative. Many approaches are used to treat basal cell skin cancers; however, the three most common forms are Mohs’ micrographic surgery, surgical excision, and electrodesiccation and curettage. The treatment that is most appropriate for you will depend on the size and location of the basal cell skin cancer. Basal cell skin cancer almost never metastasizes or goes deep into the body. It can be, however, very destructive and erosive, as seen in the pictures above. Basal cell skin cancers need to be treated. Once a patient develops a basal cell skin cancer, there is a 50% chance that they could develop another lesion within five years. That it is why it is important to have regular skin checks for the first five years at six- to twelve-month intervals, depending on what Dr. Crutchfield recommends. It is also important to call our office immediately if you notice any mole that is changing in size, color or shape; or any spot that bleeds and does not heal in three weeks. For additional information on the treatment of basal cell skin cancers, please view our video below on Skin Cancer: Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prognosis.
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