If you spend a lot of time out in the sun, either through your job or during leisure activities, you could be at risk of developing basal cell carcinoma. Regular check-ups at your local skin cancer clinic will ensure that any potential problems are quickly identified so that treatment can be started promptly. In the meantime, what danger signs should you look out for and what's the prognosis if you are diagnosed with this condition?
Basal cell carcinoma
Basal cell carcinoma is a form of skin cancer that is caused by too much unprotected exposure to sunlight, including the use of tanning beds. This form of cancer is more common in people with fair skin. Fortunately, it is relatively easy to treat, as long as it is caught quickly, and this form of skin cancer does not tend to spread to other parts of the body.
Basal cell carcinoma usually appears on your nose or face, appearing first as small, shiny lumps. The cancer grows slowly, often taking many years before it becomes particularly noticeable.
The lump may have tiny blood vessels inside it and it can vary in colour from black to brown or pink. Sometimes, small scaly patches may appear on the surface of the lump or there may be a kind of waxy, hard skin. If you knock the lump, it will bleed easily.
Diagnosis and treatment
The doctor at your local skin cancer clinic will take a small scraping or biopsy of the growth, which will then be sent off to a lab for analysis.
If cancer is diagnosed, there are several courses of treatment.
- The first option is to remove the tumour by way of excision. The tumour and skin around it are numbed and it is then cut away, together with a small amount of normal skin. The tumour and skin will be sent to a lab for confirmation that all the cancer has been removed.
- In the case of very small tumours, your doctor may opt to treat the cancer by curettage and desiccation. This entails scraping away the tumour and using an electric needle to kill off any remaining cancer cells and stop the site from bleeding.
- Cryosurgery is a treatment where the tumour is frozen with liquid nitrogen. This effectively kills the cancer cells.
- Radiation therapy can also be used to kill cancerous cells by targeting them with X-rays. This treatment will be carried out over a number of weeks.
- If the tumour is large or has not responded to previous treatments, your doctor may recommend a technique called Moh's surgery. This treatment involves the removal of the tumour one thin layer at a time. Each layer is examined microscopically until the depth that is free-from cancer cells is reached.
- Very small tumours are often treated using topical creams. You simply apply the cream to the tumour every day for a few weeks until it has disappeared.
Basal cell carcinoma is a common form of skin cancer that is easily treated if detected quickly. Always attend your local skin cancer clinic if you find any unusual lumps or marks on your skin and have regular check-ups if you spend a lot of time outside in the sun.