What Is Basal Cell Cancer?


Quick Answer

Basal cell carcinoma is a form of skin cancer that develops on sun-exposed skin, such as the neck, the face or the arms although it can occur on skin that has not been exposed to the sun, states Mayo Clinic. Basal cells produce new skin cells, and when the skin is exposed to ultraviolet sunlight, these cells can mutate and grow abnormally.

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Full Answer

Basal cell carcinoma may appear brown, black or white or may look like a waxy scar, according to Mayo Clinic. The tumor can even bleed. These cancers typically are slow growing, but more invasive forms, such as morpheaform basal cell carcinoma, can develop quickly.

Basal cell cancer typically looks like a sore that just does not heal, states MedicineNet.com. It usually is localized to just one area and does not become metastatic or spread to other parts of the body. Smaller lesions can be frozen and removed in a doctor's office, but larger cancers may need surgery to excise all of the tumor completely. Lesions that appear on the face and those that have been frozen once but return are usually treated with a Mohs procedure, where layers of the skin are removed until the surgeon no longer sees evidence of cancer in the surrounding skin cells when looking at specimens under a microscope.

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, approximately 2.8 million Americans are diagnosed each year with basal cell carcinoma. It is the most common form of all skin cancers.

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