BCCs are abnormal, uncontrolled growths or lesions that arise in the skin’s basal cells, which line the deepest layer of the epidermis (the outermost layer of the skin). BCCs often look like open sores, red patches, pink growths, shiny bumps, or scars and are usually caused by a combination of cumulative and intense, occasional sun exposure.
BCC almost never spreads (metastasizes) beyond the original tumor site. Only in exceedingly rare cases can it spread to other parts of the body and become life-threatening. It shouldn’t be taken lightly, though: it can be disfiguring if not treated promptly.
More than 4 million cases of basal cell carcinoma are diagnosed in the U.S. each year. In fact, BCC is the most frequently occurring form of all cancers. More than one out of every three new cancers is a skin cancer, and the vast majority are BCCs.
5 Warning Signs of Basal Cell Carcinoma
1. An open sore that bleeds, oozes, or crusts and remains open for a few weeks, only to heal up and then bleed again. A persistent, non–healing sore is a very common sign of an early BCC.
2. A reddish patch or irritated area, frequently occurring on the face, chest, shoulders, arms, or legs. Sometimes the patch crusts. It may also itch or hurt. At other times, it persists with no discomfort.
3. A shiny bump or nodule that is pearly or clear and is often pink, red, or white. The bump can also be tan, black, or brown, especially in dark-haired people, and can be confused with a normal mole.
4. A pink growth with a slightly elevated rolled border and a crusted indentation in the center. As the growth slowly enlarges, tiny blood vessels may develop on the surface.
5. A scar-like area that is white, yellow or waxy, and often has poorly defined borders; the skin itself appears shiny and taut. This warning sign may indicate the presence of an invasive BCC that is larger than it appears to be on the surface.
BCCs are easily treated in their early stages. The larger the tumor has grown, however, the more extensive the treatment needed. While BCCs seldom spread to vital organs, they can cause major disfigurement and occasionally result in nerve or muscle injury. Certain rare, aggressive forms can be lethal if not treated promptly.
When small skin cancers are removed, the scars are usually cosmetically acceptable. If the tumors are very large, a skin graft or flap may be used to repair the wound in order to achieve the best cosmetic result and facilitate healing.