Note: The information on cancer types on the ACRF website is not designed to provide medical or professional advice and is for information only. If you have any health problems or questions please consult your doctor.
Basal cell skin cancer, or basal cell carcinoma, is the most common type of skin cancer: about 80% of skin cancers are basal cell carcinomas. It is also the most common type of cancer in humans.
Basal cell carcinomas usually develop on sun-exposed areas, especially the head and neck, and tend to grow slowly. It’s very rare for a basal cell cancer to spread to other parts of the body, but if left untreated it can grow into nearby areas and invade the bone or other tissues beneath the skin.
Basal cell skin cancers usually appear as flat, firm, pale areas or small, raised, pink or red, translucent, shiny, pearly bumps that may bleed after a minor injury such as shaving. They may have one or more abnormal blood vessels, a lower area in their centre, and blue, brown, or black areas. Large basal cell skin cancers may have oozing or crusted areas.
Based on the stage of the cancer and other factors, treatment options may include:
Different types of surgery can be used to treat basal cell cancers. Excision by butting out the tumour and a small margin of normal skin is a common treatment. Curettage and electrodesiccation are also common surgical treatment options but might need to be repeated to ensure all of the cancer has been removed.
Mohs surgery, which is microscopically controlled, has the best cure rate for basal cell skin cancer, especially for large tumours or if the tumour’s edges are not well-defined. However, it’s also usually more complex, time-consuming, and expensive than other methods.
Radiation therapy is often a good option for treating patients who might not be able to tolerate surgery or for treating Basal cell skin cancers found on areas that can be hard to treat surgically. It’s also sometimes used after surgery if it’s not clear that all of the cancer has been removed.
Cryosurgery (the application of extreme cold to remove tissue through methods such as liquid nitrogen) can be used for some small basal cell carcinomas but is not usually recommended for larger tumours or those on certain parts of the nose, ears, eyelids, scalp, or legs. Side effects can include drainage of fluid from the site for 4 to 6 weeks and slow healing.
In rare cases where Basal cell skin cancer spreads to other parts of the body or can’t be cured with surgery or radiation therapy, a targeted drug can often shrink or slow the growth of the cancer.
Fortunately, most basal cell cancers can be cured with fairly minor surgery or other types of local treatments.
After treatment, basal cell cancer can recur in the same place on the skin. People who have had basal cell cancers are also more likely to get new ones elsewhere on the skin.
Together we can change the statistics and outsmart cancer for good
Cancer in Australia 2017, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare
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