Risk Factors and Diagnosis

Certain people are more likely to have skin cancer. For example, people with fair skin, light-colored eyes or blond or red hair are especially prone to developing basal cell carcinoma (BCC).

What Else Makes BCC More Likely?
  • Spending too much time in the sun  (without protection) or using tanning beds
  • Frequent sunburns (especially at an early age)
  • Having had a previous BCC or other skin cancer
  • Family history (for example, people with a disorder called Basal Cell Carcinoma Nevus Syndrome makes multiple skin cancers more likely)
  • Certain medical conditions or medications 
  • Old scars, burns, ulcers or areas of irritation on the skin
  • Exposure to arsenic at work
  • Radiation therapy

What Does Basal Cell Carcinoma Look Like?

BCC will look and feel different depending on the type it is (superficial, pigmented or nodular). 

It might appear as a: 

  • smooth, shiny, pearly or waxy bump
  • firm red or flesh-colored bump
  • growth with unusual blood vessels in and around it
  • sore that might bleed and doesn’t seem to be healing  
  • flat spot or patch of skin (usually red or brown) that is rough, dry, or scaly 

Regardless of what it looks like, if you notice something on your skin that worries you, or if an existing growth starts to change or irritate you, get it checked out. Try to do regular skin exams too. Getting comfortable with the look and feel or your skin will help you know what is normal and what’s not. 

How is it Found?

Your doctor will examine your skin. A biopsy is typically needed to confirm a diagnosis.

A biopsy is a common procedure to remove a piece of the skin. The area will be numbed with a medication applied to or injected into the skin. Then the doctor (often a dermatologist or skin doctor) will scrape the skin to get a sample of tissue. A different doctor (called a pathologist) will look at this tissue under the microscope to check for cancer cells. There are several types of biopsies.

Can it Spread Beyond the Skin?

BCC usually grows slowly. In some cases, especially if it is untreated, it can invade nearby tissue. Since the majority of BCC occur on the face, if there is local invasion it may cause damage to nearby organs such as the ear or nose and surgeries to remove the cancer can be difficult. 

It is rare for BCC to spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body, but if it does learn more on advanced BCC here

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