What Is Basal Cell Carcinoma?
Basal cell carcinoma is a type of skin cancer. Basal cell carcinoma begins in the basal cells — a type of cell within the skin that produces new skin cells as old ones die off.
Basal cell carcinoma often appears as a waxy bump, though it can take other forms. Basal cell carcinoma occurs most often on areas of the skin that are often exposed to the sun, h as your face and neck.
What Causes Basal Cell Carcinoma?
Most basal cell carcinomas are thought to be caused by long-term exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from sunlight. Avoiding the sun and using sunscreen may help protect against basal cell carcinoma.
Basal cell carcinomas usually develop on sun-exposed parts of your body, especially your head and neck. A much smaller number occur on the trunk and legs. Yet basal cell carcinomas can also occur on parts of your body that are rarely exposed to sunlight.
Symptoms of Basal Cell Carcinoma:
Although a general warning sign of skin cancer is a sore that won’t heal or that repeatedly bleeds and scabs over, basal cell cancer may also appear as:
- A pearly white or waxy bump, often with visible blood vessels, on your face, ears or neck. The bump may bleed and develop a crust. In darker skinned people, this type of cancer may be brown or black.
- A flat, scaly, brown or flesh-colored patch on your back or chest. Over time, these patches can grow quite large.
- More rarely, a white, waxy scar. This type of basal cell carcinoma is easy to overlook, but it may be a sign of a particularly invasive and disfiguring cancer called morpheaform basal cell carcinoma.
Basal cell carcinoma occurs when one of the skin’s basal cells develops a mutation in its DNA. Basal cells are found at the bottom of the epidermis — the outermost layer of skin. Basal cells produce new skin cells. As new skin cells are produced, they push older cells toward the skin’s surface, where the old cells die and are sloughed off.
The process of creating new skin cells is controlled by a basal cell’s DNA. A mutation in the DNA causes a basal cell to multiply rapidly and continue growing when it would normally die. Eventually the accumulating abnormal cells may form a cancerous tumor.
Factors That Increase Your Risk of Basal Cell Carcinoma:
- Chronic sun exposure.
- A lot of time spent in the sun — or in commercial tanning booths — increases the risk of basal cell carcinoma. The threat is greater if you live in a sunny or high-altitude climate, both of which expose you to more UV radiation. The risk is also higher if most of your exposure occurred before the age of 18. Your risk is greater if you have had at least one blistering sunburn.
- Exposure to radiation.
- Psoralen plus ultraviolet A (PUVA) treatments for psoriasis may increase your risk of basal cell carcinoma and other forms of skin cancer. Having undergone radiation treatments for childhood acne or other conditions also may increase your risk of basal cell carcinoma.
- Fair skin.
- If you have very light skin or you freckle or sunburn easily, you’re more likely to develop skin cancer than is someone with a darker complexion. Basal cell carcinoma is rare in black people.
- Your sex. Men are more likely to develop basal cell carcinoma than women are.
- Your age. Because basal cell carcinomas often take decades to develop, the majority of basal cell carcinomas occur in people age 50 or older.
- A personal or family history of skin cancer. If you’ve had basal cell carcinoma one or more times, you have a good chance of developing it again. If you have a family history of skin cancer, you may have an increased risk of developing basal cell carcinoma.
- Immune-suppressing drugs. Taking medications that suppress your immune system, especially after transplant surgery, significantly increases your risk of skin cancer. Cancers in people with a weakened immune system generally are more aggressive than they are in otherwise healthy people.
- Exposure to arsenic. Arsenic, a toxic metal that’s found widely in the environment, increases the risk of basal cell carcinoma and other cancers. Everyone has some arsenic exposure because it occurs naturally in the soil, air and groundwater. But people who may be exposed to higher levels of arsenic include farmers, refinery workers, and people who drink contaminated well water or live near smelting plants.
- Inherited syndromes that cause skin cancer. Certain rare genetic diseases increase the risk of basal cell carcinoma.
- Nevoid basal cell carcinoma syndrome (Gorlin-Goltz syndrome) causes numerous basal cell carcinomas, as well as pitting on the hands and feet and spine abnormalities.
- Xeroderma pigmentosum causes an extreme sensitivity to sunlight and a high risk of skin cancer because people with this condition have little or no ability to repair damage to the skin from ultraviolet light.
Dr. Larry Jaeger, New York City Osteopathic doctor , is an expert in the diagnosis and treatment of skin conditions, such as Basal Cell Carcinoma; and is board certified in dermatology and dermatological surgery. Dr. Jaeger practices at Advanced Dermatology Associates at his Midtown – Manhattan location at 200 Central Park South, Suite 107.
Please call (212) 262-2500 or 1-800-545-7546 (SKIN) to schedule your skin care appointment for Basal Cell Carcinoma.