Basal Cell Carcinoma (Pictures)
Types of Skin Cancer
A diagnosis of basal cell carcinoma simply means a cancer tumor in the deepest level of the epidermis, or top layer of skin. Basal cell carcinoma is a malignancy generally considered common and slow to develop.
The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that about 80 percent of skin cancers are basal cell, which are not likely to spread to other parts of the body. Fifteen percent are squamous cell, which are likely to spread; and 5 percent are melanoma, which spreads easily if not detected early.
UV Rays Can Overwhelm Your Immune Response
Although causal factors for cancers in other parts of the body are hard to pinpoint, skin cancer is usually caused by exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun or tanning sunlamps.
UV rays damage the genetic makeup of your skin. Throughout your life, your immune system repairs that damage. However, sometimes, for a variety of reasons, the body can no longer fix the damage.
Risks Besides UV Rays
In addition to long-term, unprotected UV exposure, factors that increase basal cell carcinoma risk include:
- gray, blue, or green eyes
- light-colored hair and skin
- usage of drugs that suppress the immune system
- exposure to chemicals such as arsenic that may be in some pesticides
- previous skin cancers
- a close blood relative had skin cancer
- you’re male (more men than women get skin cancer)
The Importance of Skin
Your skin shields internal organs from germs and other dangers, including harm caused by UV rays. Skin keeps fluids that your organs need inside your body and helps generate vitamin D, which has many health benefits. Considered the largest organ in your body, your skin also helps regulate body temperature.
How Skin Cells Normally Function
Like cells elsewhere in the body, living skin cells normally cycle through growing, dividing, and dying stages. DNA controls this process. When you’re younger, your cells divide more rapidly so that you will grow. When you’ve matured, your cells need to divide only to replace damaged cells. Throughout life, dead cells move to the surface where they are sloughed off.
Skin Cancer Cells Act Differently
A cancer cell’s life cycle is different. At the point when normal cells would naturally die, cancer cells continue to divide and grow, sometimes invading nearby cells. They can travel to other parts of the body through blood or lymph fluids. Sometimes they form a malignant tumor. Basal cell carcinoma might be one such tumor, or growth. Since it tends to grow slowly, being aware of suspicious-looking skin can usually help you get treatment before a basal cell cancer invades the tissues and bone below the skin.
Skin Cancer Signs
If the normal skin cell cycle has been interrupted in a particular area of your body, you will see evidence that your immune system is not keeping up with the damage UV rays have inflicted. Signs you might see include:
- new growths
- old growths growing or changing color or texture
- sores that take more than a few months to heal
The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends monthly monitoring of your skin in a full-length mirror to find changes.
Basal Cell Carcinoma Indicators
The ACS further describes possible basal cell carcinomas as “flat, firm, pale areas or as small, raised, pink or red, shiny, pearly areas that may bleed after minor injury.” Or they might ooze or crust. Another possibility is blood vessels visible on the growth.
Treating and Preventing
If your doctor believes a basal cell carcinoma is superficial, he or she might prescribe a topical medicine or freeze the tumor with liquid nitrogen. Procedures for deeper or larger cancers might involve scraping or surgically removing them.
Since basal cell carcinomas are likely caused by sun exposure, protecting your skin is wise. Be sure to:
- apply sunscreen
- wear wide-brimmed hats
- wear clothes that adequately cover your body
- avoid midday sun