Many people don‘t realize that basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of cancer. Fortunately, it is easy to diagnose and easy to treat if caught early. Here are a few facts about basal cell carcinoma:
- Basal cells are the name of the cells that line the deepest layer of the epidermis. Basal cell carcinoma is a tumor or abnormal growth of this layer of skin cells.
- Diagnosis is achieved via biopsy. During a biopsy, a sample of skin is removed from the area where cancer is suspected. The exact method of removal depends upon the location. The sample is then examined under a microscope.
- Approximately 5 to 10 percent of basal cell carcinomas can be either especially aggressive or resistant to treatment and can affect not just the skin around them but even bone or cartilage.
- Basal cell carcinoma is unlikely to metastasize and is usually not life-threatening. In its worst cases, it can cause scarring or disfigurement that requires plastic surgery.
- There are factors that increase your chances of getting basal cell carcinoma. They include;
- Hours per day outdoors. If you spend a lot of time outdoors, you are at greater risk for basal cell carcinoma due to your increased exposure to the sun.
- Skin type. If you have very fair skin (almost always accompanied by light-colored hair and eyes), you are at increased risk for basal cell carcinoma. This is because skin pigmentation provides natural sun protection. Check out Skin Types and At-Risk Groups at the Skin Cancer Foundation to assess the degree of your increased risk.
- Where you live. The closer to the equator, the more likely that you have a higher rate of exposure to the sun. Over the course of a year, not only are the hours of sunlight longer, but the intensity of the sun is greater, too. This means that you’ve likely been exposed to more hours of sun if you live in Southern California than, say, Seattle, Washington.
- An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of flesh. Just as women should perform a monthly breast self-exam and men, a testicle self-exam, so men and women both should check their skin for any changes as well. When checking your head and face, be sure to examine your scalp (use a blow dryer to help expose your scalp). Don’t forget to check hands and nails, genitals, beneath breasts, and use a hand mirror to check out the back of your body. If you notice ANY change on your skin, get it looked at as soon as possible. Here are some of the things you are looking for:
- Sores that don’t heal. Any sore that takes a long time to heal, oozes, crusts or otherwise looks unusual should be checked out.
- Reddish patches. If you have a patch of skin that looks red and irritated, get it checked. Sometimes these patches can itch or hurt, but not always, so get it checked out either way.
- Bumps or growths. Any new growth above the surface of the skin counts as a bump. Color can vary from pink to white to brown and can sometimes have the same appearance as a mole. The growth may have crusts or visible blood vessels, but have it looked at no matter what.
- Scarrish-looking skin. Any patch of skin that looks like you have a scar there can be a sign of cancer. Color can vary from white to yellow to red and the edge of the area can be indistinct.
Be sure to pay special attention to areas of the body that receive frequent sun exposure, i.e. face, ears, scalp, neck, shoulders, chest and back.
When it comes to basal cell carcinoma, err on the side of caution. Your best bet at staving off basal cell carcinoma is to have ANY change in your skin texture or appearance checked by a dermatologist just as soon as possible.