What Is Basal Cell Carcinoma?

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is a skin cancer affecting the basal cells inthe skin's outermost layer. It is the most common type of skin cancer, but it is also the safest.

If you suspect you have BCC, you should see a doctor to get a proper diagnosis and discuss treatment options. Early detection and treatment can help to prevent cancer spread and reduce the risk of scarring or disfigurement. This article will tell you everything you need to know about basal cell carcinoma.


BCC is the most common type of skin cancer, accounting for approximately 80% of all skin cancer cases. It occurs when the skin's basal cells begin to grow uncontrollably, resulting in the formation of a tumour. Basal cells are found in the lower epidermis, which is the skin's outermost layer.

BCC is typically characterised by a small, raised, flesh-coloured or white bump that may be shiny and translucent. It can also take the form of a flat, scaly, flesh-coloured, or brown patch. Growth is usually slow and can happen anywhere on the body, but it is most common on the face, neck, and arms.

Although BCC is rarely life-threatening, if left untreated, it can grow and spread to surrounding tissue, causing disfigurement and functional issues. Surgical excision, cryotherapy (freezing), radiation therapy, and topical medications are all options for treatment.1

Causes of basal cell carcinoma

Basal cell carcinoma is a non-melanoma skin cancer that can be caused by several factors, including:1

  • Sun exposure: The most significant risk factor for developing basal cell carcinoma is prolonged exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun
  • Genetics: Some people are predisposed to developing basal cell carcinoma because it runs in their family
  • Age: The risk of developing basal cell carcinoma rises with age, and it is most common in people over the age of 50
  • People with fair skin are more likely to develop basal cell carcinoma than those with darker skin
  • Tanning beds: Because they emit UV rays, tanning beds can increase the risk of developing basal cell carcinoma
  • Chronic skin damage: People who have had numerous skin injuries or damage to their skin may be at a higher risk of developing basal cell carcinoma

In summary, the primary causes of basal cell carcinoma are UV ray exposure, genetics, age, fair skin, tanning beds, and chronic skin damage.2

Prevention of basal cell skin cancer 

Here are some tips from the cancer council that can help you prevent basal cell skin cancer:

  • Sun protection is essential for your skin. Apply sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher, as recommended by the Cancer Council, and reapply every two hours
  • Seek out some shade. Avoid spending long periods in direct sunlight, especially in the middle of the day when UV radiation is at its peak
  • Protect yourself. Wear long-sleeved shirts, pants, a hat, and sunglasses to cover as much skin as possible
  • Avoid using sunbeds. Sunbeds are strongly discouraged by the Cancer Council because they can increase your risk of developing basal cell skin cancer
  • Learn about your skin. Check your skin for changes regularly, and have any unusual moles or spots examined by a doctor
  • Avoid getting sunburned. Sunburn raises your chances of getting basal cell skin cancer
  • Learn about your ancestors. If someone in your family has had basal cell skin cancer, you may be more likely to develop it yourself
  • Maintain a healthy diet. A diet high in fruits and vegetables may help lower your chances of developing basal cell skin cancer
  • You should not smoke. Smoking increases your chances of developing basal cell skin cancer, as well as many other types of cancer
  • Obtain an HPV vaccination. Basal cell skin cancer can be caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV).3 To protect against HPV-related cancers, the Cancer Council recommends the HPV vaccine

You can lower your risk of developing basal cell skin cancer by following the Cancer Council's advice. 

Signs and symptoms of basal cell carcinoma

As we already said, basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common type of non-melanoma skin cancer and It is typically caused by excessive sun exposure, especially in people with fair skin.

Examine your skin for BCCs in areas where it is most exposed to the sun, such as the face, ears, neck, scalp, chest, shoulders, and back, but keep in mind that they can appear anywhere on the body. A BCC tumour frequently exhibits two or more of these warning signs and symptoms.

You should be aware of the following symptoms:

  • A skin bump that is small, raised, pearly, waxy, and has visible blood vessels 
  • A crusty or scaly lesion that is flat and flesh-coloured or brown
  • A sore that bleeds easily and takes a few weeks to heal
  • A pinkish-red skin patch that is frequently rough, crusted, or scaly in texture
  • A skin bump with a distinct border that is shiny, smooth, and pearly

Remember that BCCs can differ from how they are described above in appearance. BCCs can resemble non-cancerous skin conditions like psoriasis or eczema in some people. About half of the BCCs in people with darker skin are pigmented (meaning brown).

Consult a physician or dermatologist as soon as you can if you think you might have basal cell carcinoma (BCC). A dermatologist is a medical professional with a focus on skin issues who can identify and treat BCC.

Typically, a skin exam is required to diagnose BCC. During this procedure, the dermatologist will examine the suspicious skin lesion and look for any other unusual skin changes. A biopsy, which entails taking a small sample of the skin lesion and examining it under a microscope, may be performed if the dermatologist suspects BCC.4

The most accurate way to diagnose BCC and establish the type and stage of the cancer is through a biopsy.

The risk of long-term complications is reduced and cancer can be stopped from spreading with early detection and treatment of BCC. 

Management and treatment for basal cell carcinoma

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is typically managed and treated surgically by removing the affected skin lesion. The most typical surgical treatments for BCC comprise:

  • In a specialised procedure known as Mohs surgery, the cancerous tissue is removed layer by layer, with each layer being examined under a microscope until only healthy, tumour-free tissue is left. In order to remove BCC and keep as much healthy tissue as possible, Mohs surgery is very effective
  • Mohs Micrographic Surgery: This technique is similar to Mohs surgery in that the cancerous tissue is removed while being meticulously examined under a microscope to identify and eliminate any emaining tumour cells
  • Simple excision entails the removal of the entire skin lesion and a margin of surrounding healthy tissue. The wound is then stitched up

There are other BCC treatments available besides surgical removals, such as:

  • Radiation therapy: This involves killing cancer cells with high-energy radiation beams
  • Topical creams and gels can be used to treat BCC by applying the drugs directly to the skin, but they are typically less efficient than surgery
  • Systemic drugs: These drugs can be taken orally and are used to treat BCC, but they may have negative side effects and are typically only used in severe cases

The choice of treatment will depend on the size, location, and type of basal cell carcinoma, as well as the patient's overall health and medical history. A dermatologist or skin cancer specialist can recommend the best treatment plan for each individual case.


Many people experience emotional stress as a result of their basal cell skin cancer diagnosis, which can cause feelings of fear, anxiety, and uncertainty about the future. Living with BCC can be difficult because it affects both physical and emotional well-being. It is critical to be aware of the signs and symptoms of BCC and to seek medical attention immediately if any suspicious skin changes are observed. Patients can often achieve a positive outcome and return to their normal activities with early detection and proper treatment.


  1. McDaniel B, Badri T, Steele RB. Basal cell carcinoma. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 [cited 2023 Aug 2]. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK482439/
  2. Dika E, Scarfì F, Ferracin M, Broseghini E, Marcelli E, Bortolani B, et al. Basal cell carcinoma: a comprehensive review. International Journal of Molecular Sciences [Internet]. 2020 Jan [cited 2023 Aug 2];21(15):5572. Available from: https://www.mdpi.com/1422-0067/21/15/5572
  3. Zakrzewska K, Regalbuto E, Pierucci F, Arvia R, Mazzoli S, Gori A, et al. Pattern of HPV infection in basal cell carcinoma and in perilesional skin biopsies from immunocompetent patients. Virology Journal [Internet]. 2012 Dec 17 [cited 2023 Aug 2];9(1):309. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1186/1743-422X-9-309
  4. Naik PP, Desai MB. Basal cell carcinoma: a narrative review on contemporary diagnosis and management. Oncol Ther [Internet]. 2022 Dec 1 [cited 2023 Aug 2];10(2):317–35. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1007/s40487-022-00201-8
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Mariam Nikolaishvili

Bachelor of medicine, Tbilisi State University, Georgia

I am Mariam Nikolaishvili, a sixth-year medical student. I decided to become a doctor when I was 5 years old, and I haven’t changed my mind since. Being a dermatologist and helping people with various skin conditions is my primary objective. I chose to participate in the Klarity internship because I have always loved to write and wanted to learn more about writing for the medical field.

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