Treatment Options

How is Basal Cell Carcinoma Treated?

In the majority of cases, BCC is easily cured using local surgery, medications applied to the skin (called topical therapies) and/or radiation. But treatment will depend on where it is located, how big and deep the tumor is in the skin, and if local lymph nodes are involved. Additional treatment options are available for people with later stage disease. Find more information on advanced basal cell carcinoma here.

Treatment for Earlier Stages of BCC May Include:

Surgery – to remove the tissue. There are several different types of surgical procedures that can be used:

  • Excision - the entire growth is removed along with a surrounding border of normal skin 
  • Curettage and electrodessication – the tumor is scraped down to it base followed by pulses of electrical energy 
  • Cryosurgery – may be considered for patients with small, well-defined primary tumors; often when other surgeries are not an option
  • Mohs surgery – the goal is to remove skin cancer one layer at a time to spare healthy tissue. After each layer is removed, it is sent to an on-site laboratory to be examined and so the surgeon knows whether more layers need to be removed in real-time. 

BCC can invade nearby tissue. If this happens, several surgeries may be needed to try to remove all of the cancer cells. These procedures can be disfiguring and very upsetting. 

Medications for the Skin

If BCC is “superficial” (in other words, not very deep in the skin), creams containing medications (imiquimod or 5-florouracil) can be applied to the skin. 

Photodynamic Therapy 

This treatment uses a medication, called a photosensitizer, and a particular type of light to kill cancer cells. 

Radiation Therapy

Radiation may be used in patients who have had a lymph node dissection or cannot be treated with surgery because it would be too difficult or extensive. It may not be recommended for people with BCCNS because they are at higher risk of forming numerous new skin cancers after radiation exposure.

Advanced BCC Generally Includes:

  • Patients who have had extensive surgeries and can no longer undergo any more procedures because of how advanced the disease is locally
  • Stage IV – primary tumor is a certain size and can involve local lymph nodes and, rarely, distant metastasis (most often lungs, bones and liver) 

Other treatments such as (intravenous) chemotherapy, targeted therapy (that work to block signals that tell cancer to grow in certain people), palliative care (to help with physical and emotional symptoms) and clinical trials may be available. Find more information about treatments for later stage BCC here.

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