B is for Basal Cell Carcinoma

April 18, 2013

A basal cell carcinoma is a particularly nasty skin cancer that can sometimes affect the foot.

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common type of skin cancer. It typically develops in the basal cells, which are found in the deepest layer of the epidermis, the outermost layer of the skin. BCC usually occurs in areas of the skin that have been exposed to the sun, such as the face, neck, scalp, and arms, but it can occur in other areas as well.

Causes and Risk Factors: The primary cause of basal cell carcinoma is prolonged and cumulative exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or tanning beds. The risk factors for developing BCC include:

  1. Sun exposure: Spending a lot of time in the sun, especially without protection, increases the risk.
  2. Fair skin: People with lighter skin tones are at higher risk than those with darker skin.
  3. Family history: Having a family history of skin cancer, including BCC, increases the risk.
  4. Age: The risk of BCC increases as people get older, with most cases occurring in individuals over the age of 50.
  5. Gender: Men are more likely than women to develop BCC.
  6. Weakened immune system: Individuals with a weakened immune system, such as organ transplant recipients or those with certain medical conditions, have an increased risk.

Symptoms and Appearance: Basal cell carcinoma often appears as a flesh-colored, pearly or waxy bump on the skin. It may also appear as a pinkish patch or a scar-like area. BCC can vary in size and shape, and it may have a rolled or translucent edge. Sometimes, it can form an open sore that does not heal or a recurring scaly area.

Diagnosis and Treatment: If a basal cell carcinoma is suspected, a dermatologist will typically perform a physical examination and may perform a biopsy to confirm the diagnosis. During a biopsy, a small sample of the affected skin is removed and examined under a microscope.

Treatment options for BCC depend on various factors, including the size, location, and aggressiveness of the tumor. Common treatment methods include:

  1. Surgical excision: The tumor is surgically removed along with a margin of healthy tissue.
  2. Mohs surgery: This specialized surgical technique is used for larger or more complex BCCs. It involves the precise removal of layers of skin until no cancerous cells remain.
  3. Electrodessication and curettage: The tumor is scraped off with a curette (a spoon-shaped instrument) and then the area is treated with an electric current to destroy any remaining cancer cells.
  4. Radiation therapy: High-energy X-rays are used to target and kill cancer cells.
  5. Topical treatments: For superficial or early-stage BCCs, topical medications like imiquimod or 5-fluorouracil may be prescribed.

Prognosis: Basal cell carcinoma is generally slow-growing and rarely spreads to other parts of the body. The prognosis is excellent for most cases, with high cure rates if detected and treated early. Regular skin examinations and sun protection measures are important for preventing BCC and detecting it at an early stage.


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