Basal Cell Skin Cancer

Basal cell cancer affects the round cells under the squamous cells in the epidermis (the skin’s top layer). It usually grows slowly and rarely spreads to lymph glands or other organs. It affects millions of Americans each year and is the most common form of cancer in the United States.

Treatment

Basal cell cancer is usually easily treated with surgery. Treatment depends on the size, depth and location of the cancer, and your overall health.

Treatment options may include:

  • Surgery: A surgeon simply cuts out the cancer and stitches your skin back together. 
  • Chemotherapy: If the cancer has spread or cannot be treated with surgery, you may need treatment with special medicine to stop or slow the cancer’s growth.
  • Cryosurgery: A doctor uses a special probe to kill cancer cells by freezing them. This method is used mainly for small tumors that are not deep.
  • Curettage and electrodessication: A specially trained doctor scrapes away cancer cells, and then uses small bursts of electricity to kill any cancer cells that remain. 
  • Mohs surgery: A specially trained doctor will remove a layer of skin and look at it right away under a microscope. Then the doctor will keep removing layers of skin until there are no signs of the cancer. This method is often used for cancers on the face.
  • Topical medicine: A cancer that is not large or deep may be treated with medicated skin cream.
  • Photodynamic therapy: The tumor is treated with a drug that makes the cancer cells sensitive to light. Then the a doctor shines a special kind of light onto the tumor to destroy the cancer cells. This method is used to treat cancers that are not large or deep.
  • Radiation therapy: This method uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells and shrink the tumor. It can be very effective for basal cell cancer that has not spread.

Most basal cell cancers are cured when treated early, but some return. Smaller ones are less likely to come back.

Care Team

You may see one or more of the following specialists for your cancer treatment.

Bryan Anderson, MD Bryan Anderson, MD Dermatologist View Researcher Profile
Elizabeth Billingsley, MD Elizabeth Billingsley, MD Dermatologist View Researcher Profile
Joseph Drabick, MD Joseph Drabick, MD Hematologist/Oncologist View Researcher Profile
Diane Hershock, MD, PhD Diane Hershock, MD, PhD Medical Oncologist View Researcher Profile
Heath Mackley, MD Heath Mackley, MD Radiation Oncologist View Researcher Profile
James Marks, MD James Marks, MD Dermatologist View Researcher Profile
Rogerio Neves, MD, PhD Rogerio Neves, MD, PhD Surgeon View Researcher Profile
Colette R. Pameijer, MD Colette R. Pameijer, MD Surgeon View Researcher Profile
Marc Rovito, MD Marc Rovito, MD Hematologist/Oncologist View Researcher Profile
Christie Travelute, MD Christie Travelute, MD Dermatologist View Researcher Profile
Henry Wagner Jr., MD Henry Wagner Jr., MD Radiologist View Researcher Profile
Amanda Cooper, MD Amanda Cooper, MD View Researcher Profile
Kevin L. Rakszawski, MD Kevin L. Rakszawski, MD View Researcher Profile

Locations

Penn State Cancer Institute

Penn State Cancer Institute

400 University Dr
Hershey, PA 17033

Phone: 717-531-6585

Clinical Trials

Groups, Classes and Support

Support groups offer an opportunity to connect with other patients, caregivers and families. Learn more about support groups offered at Penn State Cancer Institute.

To find out more about basal cell skin cancer, visit:

Prevention and Screening

The best way to prevent skin cancer is to use sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30. Use it on any exposed skin, even when it’s cloudy or cold, and apply it at least 30 minutes before going outside. If you’ll be sweating or swimming, make sure your sunscreen is water-resistant, and reapply often.

Here are some other ways to protect your skin:

  • Ultraviolet (UV) light is strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Try to avoid the sun during these hours. 
  • Wear wide-brim hats, long-sleeve shirts, long skirts or pants.
  • Keep in mind that some surfaces reflect light, such as water, sand, concrete and areas that are painted white.
  • Remember that the higher the altitude, the faster your skin burns.
  • Do not use sunlamps and tanning beds. Spending 15 to 20 minutes at a tanning bed does as much harm as a day spent in the sun.

Check your skin once a month. Have your doctor check it once a year if you are older than 40 and every three years if you are 20 to 40 years old.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Basal cell cancer affects the round cells under the squamous cells in the epidermis (the skin’s top layer). It usually grows slowly and rarely spreads to lymph glands or other organs. It affects millions of Americans each year and is the most common form of cancer in the United States.

Symptoms

Basal cell cancer usually doesn't hurt or grow quickly. It can be hard to detect because it might not look much different than your healthy skin. It might just look like a bump or growth, and it might be:

  • Pearly or waxy
  • White or light pink
  • Oozing or crusting
  • Red and scaly
  • A sore that bleeds a lot or does not heal
  • A scar that appears where there was no injury
  • Surrounded by blood vessels
  • Sunken compared to surrounding skin

See your doctor any time you have a sore or spot on your skin that changes in:

  • Appearance
  • Color
  • Size
  • Texture

Also call your doctor if a spot becomes painful or swollen, or if it starts to bleed or itch. Your doctor will check the spot to see if it needs to be tested for cancer.

Diagnosis

To confirm cancer, you will need a biopsy. Your doctor will remove all or part of the spot and send it to a lab to check for cancer cells. If you have cancer, you may need more tests to see how deep it is and whether it has spread.

Basal Cell Skin Cancer

Basal cell cancer affects the round cells under the squamous cells in the epidermis (the skin’s top layer). It usually grows slowly and rarely spreads to lymph glands or other organs. It affects millions of Americans each year and is the most common form of cancer in the United States.

Basal cell cancer is usually easily treated with surgery. Treatment depends on the size, depth and location of the cancer, and your overall health.

Treatment options may include:

  • Surgery: A surgeon simply cuts out the cancer and stitches your skin back together. 
  • Chemotherapy: If the cancer has spread or cannot be treated with surgery, you may need treatment with special medicine to stop or slow the cancer’s growth.
  • Cryosurgery: A doctor uses a special probe to kill cancer cells by freezing them. This method is used mainly for small tumors that are not deep.
  • Curettage and electrodessication: A specially trained doctor scrapes away cancer cells, and then uses small bursts of electricity to kill any cancer cells that remain. 
  • Mohs surgery: A specially trained doctor will remove a layer of skin and look at it right away under a microscope. Then the doctor will keep removing layers of skin until there are no signs of the cancer. This method is often used for cancers on the face.
  • Topical medicine: A cancer that is not large or deep may be treated with medicated skin cream.
  • Photodynamic therapy: The tumor is treated with a drug that makes the cancer cells sensitive to light. Then the a doctor shines a special kind of light onto the tumor to destroy the cancer cells. This method is used to treat cancers that are not large or deep.
  • Radiation therapy: This method uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells and shrink the tumor. It can be very effective for basal cell cancer that has not spread.

Most basal cell cancers are cured when treated early, but some return. Smaller ones are less likely to come back.

You may see one or more of the following specialists for your cancer treatment.

Bryan Anderson, MD Bryan Anderson, MD Dermatologist View Researcher Profile
Elizabeth Billingsley, MD Elizabeth Billingsley, MD Dermatologist View Researcher Profile
Joseph Drabick, MD Joseph Drabick, MD Hematologist/Oncologist View Researcher Profile
Diane Hershock, MD, PhD Diane Hershock, MD, PhD Medical Oncologist View Researcher Profile
Heath Mackley, MD Heath Mackley, MD Radiation Oncologist View Researcher Profile
James Marks, MD James Marks, MD Dermatologist View Researcher Profile
Rogerio Neves, MD, PhD Rogerio Neves, MD, PhD Surgeon View Researcher Profile
Colette R. Pameijer, MD Colette R. Pameijer, MD Surgeon View Researcher Profile
Marc Rovito, MD Marc Rovito, MD Hematologist/Oncologist View Researcher Profile
Christie Travelute, MD Christie Travelute, MD Dermatologist View Researcher Profile
Henry Wagner Jr., MD Henry Wagner Jr., MD Radiologist View Researcher Profile
Amanda Cooper, MD Amanda Cooper, MD View Researcher Profile
Kevin L. Rakszawski, MD Kevin L. Rakszawski, MD View Researcher Profile
Penn State Cancer Institute

Penn State Cancer Institute

400 University Dr
Hershey, PA 17033

Phone: 717-531-6585

Support groups offer an opportunity to connect with other patients, caregivers and families. Learn more about support groups offered at Penn State Cancer Institute.

To find out more about basal cell skin cancer, visit:

The best way to prevent skin cancer is to use sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30. Use it on any exposed skin, even when it’s cloudy or cold, and apply it at least 30 minutes before going outside. If you’ll be sweating or swimming, make sure your sunscreen is water-resistant, and reapply often.

Here are some other ways to protect your skin:

  • Ultraviolet (UV) light is strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Try to avoid the sun during these hours. 
  • Wear wide-brim hats, long-sleeve shirts, long skirts or pants.
  • Keep in mind that some surfaces reflect light, such as water, sand, concrete and areas that are painted white.
  • Remember that the higher the altitude, the faster your skin burns.
  • Do not use sunlamps and tanning beds. Spending 15 to 20 minutes at a tanning bed does as much harm as a day spent in the sun.

Check your skin once a month. Have your doctor check it once a year if you are older than 40 and every three years if you are 20 to 40 years old.

Basal cell cancer affects the round cells under the squamous cells in the epidermis (the skin’s top layer). It usually grows slowly and rarely spreads to lymph glands or other organs. It affects millions of Americans each year and is the most common form of cancer in the United States.

Symptoms

Basal cell cancer usually doesn't hurt or grow quickly. It can be hard to detect because it might not look much different than your healthy skin. It might just look like a bump or growth, and it might be:

  • Pearly or waxy
  • White or light pink
  • Oozing or crusting
  • Red and scaly
  • A sore that bleeds a lot or does not heal
  • A scar that appears where there was no injury
  • Surrounded by blood vessels
  • Sunken compared to surrounding skin

See your doctor any time you have a sore or spot on your skin that changes in:

  • Appearance
  • Color
  • Size
  • Texture

Also call your doctor if a spot becomes painful or swollen, or if it starts to bleed or itch. Your doctor will check the spot to see if it needs to be tested for cancer.

Diagnosis

To confirm cancer, you will need a biopsy. Your doctor will remove all or part of the spot and send it to a lab to check for cancer cells. If you have cancer, you may need more tests to see how deep it is and whether it has spread.