Skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer, comprising approximately 30% of all new cancer diagnoses. Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) affects approximately 800,000 Americans annually, making it the most common of all cancers. Basal cell carcinoma arises from cells in the epidermis (outermost layer of skin), and although it most often occurs in sun-exposed skin, it may occur anywhere on the body.
What Causes Basal Cell Carcinoma?
The most common cause of BCC is sunlight. Sunlight can cause damage to cellular DNA and this is harmful because DNA is the blueprint or map for creating new cells. In most cases, damaged DNA is detected and repaired by an internal surveillance and repair mechanism. Basal cell skin cancer forms when sun damage is too great or if the repair mechanism is not working effectively.
Who Gets Basal Cell Carcinoma?
Anyone with a history of frequent sun exposure can develop BCC. But people who have fair skin, light hair, or light eyes are at highest risk. Those whose occupations require long hours in the outdoors or who spend extensive leisure time in the sun are in particular jeopardy. Dark-skinned individuals are far less likely than fair-skinned to develop skin cancer.
What Does Basal Cell Carcinoma Look Like?
Basal cell carcinoma may have a varied appearance, and is often very subtle. Common subtypes of BCC are shown in photographs below. Regular skin examination by a dermatologist allows for detection of early, and likely smaller basal cell carcinomas. We also recommend regular self-skin examination -- as often as once a month if you are at high risk. Be sure to include the scalp, backs of ears, neck, and other hard-to-see areas. (A full-length mirror and a hand-held mirror can be very useful). Your physician will suggest the correct time frame for follow-up visits, depending on your specific risk factors, such as skin type and history of sun exposure.
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Mohs Surgery and Surgical Dermatology for Skin Cancer