Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer in the United States. It should never be ignored. It needs immediate doctor treatment because it can be lethal. It gets its name because the kind of skin cells affected is called basal cells. It is caused by overexposure to the ultraviolet rays of the sun. People most at risk of basal cell carcinoma are light-skinned people with any other eye color except brown. People who “sun-worship” or do a lot of tanning are also at risk. Basal cell carcinoma can pop up again even after a cure, so anyone that ever suffered from basal cell carcinoma needs to be on constant vigilance for a reappearance.
Basal cell carcinomas come in all kinds of colors from a flesh-colored bump to white waxy scar-like tissue. Any strange lump or bump of any color that comes on suddenly or begins to grow needs to be checked out by a doctor. Any wound that will not close up or heal also needs to be checked. Basal cell carcinomas sometimes bleed or develop a crust from leaking fluids. Areas where basal cell carcinomas most frequently occur are areas most exposed to the sun like arms, legs, face, scalp, back and neck.
Basal cell carcinoma is one of the most understood cancers to date. The cause of the vast majority of basal cell carcinoma cases is long-term exposure to ultraviolet light (UV).
Basal cell carcinoma begins in the very top layer of skin. Over time, as this area is affected by UV rays, the skin can develop a type of mutation that often leads to basal cell carcinoma or a more virulent form of skin cancer.
While UV exposure is by far the major cause of basal cell carcinoma, it is not the only cause. Some people who take immune suppressant drugs have been known to develop a type of basal cell carcinoma that is aggressive and can appear over large areas of the body.
Arsenic exposure is another rare cause of this cancer. Those working in agriculture and in the petrochemical industry may be exposed to higher levels of arsenic than the general public.
Gorlin-Goltz syndrome is a very rare genetic disorder. Those with this disorder often develop basal cell carcinoma.
Fortunately, there are many effective treatment options for people with basal cell carcinomas, provided it is caught early enough.
Doctors may be able to simply cut away the effective area and cauterized to prevent infection. The affected area may also be removed through freezing, laser surgery, use of topical medicated creams such as imiquimod for several weeks or through complicated micrographic Mohs surgery which removes cells one skin layer at a time.
Radiation helps kill cancer cells that surgical removal could not get at. Not all patients with basal cell carcinoma need radiation treatments.
In rare cases where the cancer has spread, patients may need to go on cancer drugs like vismodegib (brand name Erivedge) or sonigedib (brand name Odomzo.) Pregnant women cannot have these drugs or they will harm the fetus.
Since UV light exposure is the primary cause in the development of basal cell carcinoma, avoiding prolonged exposure to UV light is the best means of prevention. When going out in the sun for any length of time, a sunblock of at least SPF 15 needs to be applied. Reapply throughout the day. Those with fair skin may need to cover their skin and wear a hat in order to have the best UV protection.
Tanning beds should always be avoided. The use of tanning beds has resulted in a vast increase in the number of patients under 50 who are developing basal cell carcinoma and other skin cancers.
Those taking immune suppressant drugs and those with a history of arsenic exposure need to be aware of the possibility of skin cancer, too. Those in these two categories should have their skin examined regularly by their healthcare professional.