18 Feb How to recognize, diagnose, and treat basal cell carcinoma
By: Dr. Angela Casey
Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer. In fact, it is estimated that about 2 million Americans hear the words, “You have basal cell carcinoma,” each year.
For most, basal cell carcinoma is treatable and not life-threatening. It tends to grow slowly and rarely spreads to other parts of the body. However, early detection is vital. Below, we will review what basal cell carcinoma looks like, how it is diagnosed, and how it is treated.
What does basal cell carcinoma look like?
Basal cell carcinoma is sneaky because it can appear in many ways, such as a patch of skin that doesn’t heal for several months, bleeds from time to time, forms a scab, looks like a pimple that doesn’t go away, or looks like eczema but doesn’t go away after a few months. If an area of your skin continues to become irritated, break open, or bleed over the course of several months, it is smart to have it checked out by a dermatologist.
How is basal cell carcinoma diagnosed?
Basal cell carcinoma is very treatable when diagnosed early. This is why seeing a dermatologist for an accurate diagnosis is imperative. During your appointment, your dermatologist will examine your skin carefully and ask questions about your health, symptoms, and medications.
If your dermatologist sees a spot that appears cancerous, he/she will perform a skin biopsy. A biopsy is a simple procedure that dermatologists can quickly and easily perform to remove the spot. Once the spot is safely removed, your dermatologist will examine it under a microscope to determine if cancerous basal cells are present.
Having a skin biopsy is the only way to accurately diagnose basal cell carcinoma. The biopsy or pathology report will disclose what type of basal cell carcinoma you have and how deeply the cancer has grown.
How is basal cell carcinoma treated?
After examining your health and the pathology report findings, your doctor will determine an effective treatment plan. There are several treatment options for basal cell carcinoma, and determining the optimal treatment option depends on the microscopic pattern of the cancer, the location on the body, the size of the skin cancer, and factors specific to each patient.
From the least invasive to the most aggressive, here are the treatment options for basal cell carcinoma:
- Topical creams, such as Aldara, stimulate the body’s immune system to fight off skin cancer. This is a nonsurgical option requiring 6 weeks of application for 5 days a week and giving an 80 percent cure rate.
- Electrodesiccation and curettage is a procedure where a sharp, spoon-shaped instrument (curette) is used to break out the cancer. Then, an electric current is used to burn the base of the cancer. This treatment gives a 90 percent cure rate.
- Surgical excision is a simple procedure where the cancer is cut out, and the wound is stitched up or left to heal on its own. This treatment gives a 94 percent cure rate.
- Radiation can also be used to treat basal cell carcinoma, but it involves going to a hospital or radiation specialist for treatment. It’s commonly prescribed to treat skin cancer in patients who are 60 years or older. Radiation can also be used as a follow-up treatment for aggressive basal cell carcinoma cases.
- Mohs surgery is a procedure where the specimen is checked microscopically while the patient is in the office to ensure the root and cancer cells were effectively removed. Mohs boasts the lowest recurrence rates, highest cure rates, and best cosmetic results of any skin cancer treatment. Mohs surgery is often recommended to treat skin cancers on the head and neck because they are cosmetically sensitive areas. The Mohs technique allows dermatologists to spare the healthy cells in the area while ensuring all the cancer cells are out.
Find the best Mohs surgeon near you
At the Center for Surgical Dermatology, we specialize in treating basal cell carcinoma. As mentioned above, Mohs surgery is often the recommended treatment. Finding a Mohs surgeon who is knowledgeable, experienced, and carries a good reputation is essential. When in the hands of our Mohs surgeons, you can be confident that you will have the highest possibility of curing your skin cancer while significantly minimizing any risk of complications.
Contact Center of Surgical Dermatology for skin cancer treatments in Westerville, OH
The Center of Surgical Dermatology is the largest medical and surgical skin treatment and wellness facility in Central Ohio. Since 2007, our board-certified Dermatologists, fellowship-trained Mohs surgeons, and caring professional staff have provided patients with treatment they can trust in an environment second to none. Learn more about our state-of-the-art Dermatology Center before booking your appointment today.