Skin Cancer: Basal Cell Carcinoma
Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC) is the most common type of skin cancer in the UK. Around 75,000 people are diagnosed with BCCs every year and they account for over 75% of all skin cancers.
BCCs are a form of non-melanoma skin cancer, and are unconnected to moles. Luckily, the vast majority do not do not spread to other parts of the body and are rarely life threatening.
What does a basal cell carcinoma look like?
Basal cell carcinomas can vary in appearance, so if you have noticed any changes or unusual lesions on your skin it’s important to get them examined by a specialist. You may first become aware of a basal cell carcinoma as a scab that bleeds and tends not to heal properly, or as a new lump on the skin.
Some BCCs are superficial and look like a flat, red, scaly mark on your skin. Others form a lump with a pearly, translucent rim that surrounds a central crater, with small blood vessels across the surface. If left untreated, basal cell carcinomas can become ulcerated - which is why they are sometimes known as ‘rodent ulcers’.
What causes basal cell carcinomas?
The most common cause is exposure to UV light from the sun or from sunbeds. This can lead to mutations in our basal cells which form the bottom layer of our skin. If there is a build up of mutations, the immune system becomes overwhelmed and is unable to repair the damaged cells, leading to a cancerous growth.
BCCs can develop anywhere on the body, but are most common in areas that are exposed to the sun, such as your face, head, neck and ears. Those most at risk are people with pale skin who burn easily, those who spend a lot of time outdoors through work or hobbies, such as gardening or sailing, and people who have used sunbeds, or spent long periods sunbathing.
What should you do if you’re worried about basal cell carcinoma?
If you have noticed any symptoms of a basal cell carcinoma or any other skin cancer, it is important to see a specialist as soon as possible.
Our team of Consultant Dermatologists include some of the UK’s leading skin cancer specialists, and they offer highly skilled diagnosis and cutting-edge treatment for all types of skin cancer. They will usually be able to diagnose a BCC from a clinical consultation, by examining your skin, and if necessary, through a simple skin biopsy.
Can basal cell carcinomas be cured?
In most cases, treatment for a BCC is quick and straightforward, and is usually very successful. The most common procedure is a simple surgical excision to remove the cancer, along with some of the surrounding healthy skin. The area is then closed with a few stitches or a small skin graft if needed.
If your cancer is in an area that is difficult to treat, such as your head, neck or ears, you may need a more specialised form of treatment, known as Mohs micrographic surgery. This involves removing the affected skin in stages and checking it straight away under a microscope. The process is repeated until the whole area is free of cancer.
Other treatments include:
- Curettage - a simple procedure where the cancer is scraped away, and the skin surface sealed with heat.
- Cryotherapy - liquid nitrogen is used to freeze and destroy the cancerous cells.
- Topical creams - including ones to stimulate your immune system.
- Photodynamic therapy - a form of light therapy to target the cancer.
Our Consultant Dermatologists have many years’ experience of successfully treating skin cancer and will tailor your treatment carefully, according to the type and size of your skin lesion and your individual medical history.
Visiting our clinic
If you are worried about any changes to your skin and would like to find out more, or make an appointment with one of our Consultant Dermatologists, please call us on 020 7244 4200.