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A basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is a type of skin cancer. There are two main types of skin cancer: melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer. BCC is a non-melanoma skin cancer, and is the most common type (greater than 80%) of all skin cancer (skin cancer incidence is less than 1%) in the UK. BCC are sometimes referred to as ‘rodent ulcers’.
The commonest cause is too much exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun or from sunbeds. BCC can occur anywhere on your body, but is most common on areas that are often exposed to the sun, i.e. your face, head, neck and ears. It is also possible for a BCC to develop where burns, scars or ulcers have damaged the skin. BCC is not infectious.
BCC mainly affects fair skinned adults, but other skin types are also at risk. Those with the highest risk of developing a basal cell carcinoma are:
Apart from a rare familial condition called Gorlin’s syndrome, BCCs are not hereditary. However some of the things that increase the risk of getting one (e.g. a fair skin, a tendency to burn rather than tan, and freckling) do run in families.
BCC can vary greatly in their appearance, but people often first become aware of them as a scab that bleeds occasionally and does not heal completely. Some BCC are very superficial and look like a scaly red flat mark; others have a pearl-like rim surrounding a central crater. If left for years the latter type can eventually erode the skin causing an ulcer; hence the name “rodent ulcer”. Other BCC are quite lumpy, with one or more shiny nodules crossed by small but easily seen blood vessels. Most BCC are painless, although sometimes can be itchy or bleed if caught on clothes or picked up.
Sometimes the diagnosis is clear from its appearance. If further investigation is necessary to confirm the diagnosis then a small area of the abnormal skin (a biopsy) or the entire lesion (an excision biopsy) may be cut out and examined under the microscope. You will be given a local anaesthetic beforehand to numb the skin.
Yes, BCCs can be cured in almost every case, although treatment becomes complicated if they have been neglected for a very long time, or if they are in an awkward place, such as near the eye, nose or ear.
BCCs never spread to other parts of the body except very rarely (fewer than 1 in 20) if neglected for years, when it may spread to draining lymph nodes. Hence, although it is a type of skin cancer it never endangers life.
The commonest treatment for BCC is surgery. Usually, this means cutting away the BCC, along with some clear skin around it, using local anaesthetic to numb the skin. The skin can usually be closed with a few stitches, but sometimes a small skin graft is needed. Please contact our Harley Street, Elstree, Northwood, or other London clinics if you are worried.
Other types of treatment include:
Acne is a very common skin condition characterised by comedones (blackheads and whiteheads).
Moles are common. Almost every adult has a few moles. Adults who have light skin often have more moles.