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The Signs: Basal Cell Carcinoma Skin Cancer

Thursday, June 29, 2017 11:05 AM

Melanoma is the most aggressive type of skin cancer and requires an aggressive approach to treatment; however, melanoma is not the only type of skin cancer nor is it the most common. Basal cell carcinomas (BCCs), which originate from stem cells in hair follicles, are the most common type of skin cancer. BCCs grow slowly, and there is little risk that they will spread to other areas of the body, yet they should be taken seriously because treatment, if it comes too late, could require serious and potentially disfiguring surgery. 

BCC Skin Cancer

BCCs may appear minor on the surface of the skin while the tumor beneath, in the deeper layer of the skin, could be significantly larger. If a tumor becomes too large than skin grafts and/or complex reconstructive surgery may be required to repair the damage caused from the tumor’s removal. 

How can you identify BCC in its early stages? Jason Waldinger, MD, Dermatologist at NorthShore, describes some common signs: 

  • Sores that don’t heal. BCCs may appear as sores on the skin; these sores can be small or large. Normally, an open wound or sore will heal in a few weeks. In contrast, BCC will often bleed, scab, appear to heal and then start to bleed and scab again.  This cycle of bleeding and scabbing often occurs repeatedly unless the skin cancer is properly diagnosed and treated by a dermatologist. A sore that does not heal within a few weeks should not be ignored because this may be an early sign of basal cell skin cancer.
  • Red patches. These patches can be subtle and are often easily overlooked.  When BCC develops as a red patch it may occur anywhere on the body, particularly the back. These red patches may itch or have no symptoms at all.
  •  Pearly or translucentbumps. When BCC arises as a pearly bump it classically develops on the face, particularly the nose. If you look closely at this type of BCC you will often find dilated, prominent blood vessels within or surrounding the lesion. In some cases this type of BCC will appear brown or even black.
  • Scar-like marks. Rarely, basal cell carcinomas can appear on the skin as a scar-like area. This type of BCC is often more invasive and may require more extensive surgical treatment to remove it. This type of BCC is called morpheaform basal cell carcinoma. 
  • Pimple-like bumps. BCC may start off looking like an acne blemish but, in contrast to acne, BCC will persist unless properly diagnosed and treated.

It is important to talk to your doctor or dermatologist about any changes you notice in your skin. Early detection of BCC is paramount to avoid complications and the need for complex surgery.