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Basal Cell Carcinoma Overview

The Most Common Skin Cancer

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common form of skin cancer and the most frequently occurring form of all cancers. In the U.S. alone, more than 4 million cases are diagnosed each year. BCCs arise from abnormal, uncontrolled growth of basal cells.

Because BCCs grow slowly, most are curable and cause minimal damage when caught and treated early. Understanding BCC causes, risk factors and warning signs can help you detect them early, when they are easiest to treat and cure.

FACT:

BCC
is serious and should be addressed as soon as possible.

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What is a basal cell?

One of three main types of cells in the top layer of the skin, basal cells shed as new ones form. BCC most often occurs when DNA damage from exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or indoor tanning triggers changes in basal cells in the outermost layer of skin (epidermis), resulting in uncontrolled growth.

What does BCC look like?

BCCs can look like open sores, red patches, pink growths, shiny bumps, scars or growths with slightly elevated, rolled edges and/or a central indentation. At times, BCCs may ooze, crust, itch or bleed. The lesions commonly arise in sun-exposed areas of the body. In patients with darker skin, about half of BCCs are pigmented (meaning brown in color).

It’s important to note that BCCs can look quite different from one person to another. For more images and information on BCC signs, symptoms and early detection strategies, visit our BCC Warning Signs page.

Please note: Since not all BCCs have the same appearance, these photos serve as a general reference to what they can look like. If you develop a spot that raises suspicion, schedule an appointment with your dermatologist.

How dangerous is BCC?

While BCCs rarely spread beyond the original tumor site, if allowed to grow, these lesions can be disfiguring and dangerous. Untreated BCCs can become locally invasive, grow wide and deep into the skin and destroy skin, tissue and bone. The longer you wait to have a BCC treated, the more likely it is to recur, sometimes repeatedly.

There are some highly unusual, aggressive cases when BCC spreads to other parts of the body. In even rarer instances, this type of BCC can become life-threatening.

How widespread is BCC?

Basal cell carcinoma is quite common, and the number of reported cases in the U.S. has steadily increased.

  • More than 4 million Americans are diagnosed with BCC each year.
  • More than one out of every three new cancers are skin cancers, and the vast majority are BCCs.
  • The diagnosis and treatment of nonmelanoma skin cancers, including BCC and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), increased up to 77 percent between 1994 and 2014.

Reviewed by:
Julie K. Karen, MD
Ronald L. Moy, MD

Last reviewed: May 2019

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