What is basal cell carcinoma?

Basal cell carcinoma (a nonmelanoma skin cancer) is the most common type of skin cancer in the United States. Each year, more than 3 million people are diagnosed with the disease.

Medical illustration of anatomy of the skin.

Basal cell carcinoma occurs when malignant (cancerous) cells grow in the skin’s basal cells, which line the deepest layer of the epidermis (the outermost layer of the skin). 

This type of skin cancer often appears as a white or skin-colored bump, usually on sun-exposed skin like on the head (especially the face/nose), neck, arms, legs and midsection. People who use tanning beds may be more prone to developing basal cell carcinoma at a younger age.

A slow-growing skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma rarely metastasizes (spreads) to other parts of the body, and if detected early, patients diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma usually have excellent treatment outcomes. 

The skin cancer specialists at the Multidisciplinary Skin Cancer Clinic at Miami Cancer Institute combine world-recognized medical expertise, innovation and compassionate care to detect and treat your specific cancer, creating precise, personalized treatment plans that incorporate groundbreaking discoveries, collaborations with other world-renowned cancer researchers, and the best individualized treatment just for you.

What are the risk factors for basal cell carcinoma?

A risk factor is anything that increases your chance of developing a disease. Having risk factors, however, does not necessarily mean you will get cancer, so it’s important to know your personal risk factors and discuss any concerns with your doctor.

The skin is the largest organ of the body, and basal cell carcinoma risk factors can be either environmental and/or genetic. For example, those who have had long-term exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun or from a tanning bed are at higher risk of developing basal cell carcinoma. 

Other common risk factors include having:

  • Fair skin
  • Blonde or red hair
  • Blue, green or light-colored eyes

Less common risk factors include:

  • Having a weakened immune system
  • Previously having another type of skin cancer
  • Exposure to radiation
  • Occupational exposure to toxic substances, like arsenic

While people with light skin, hair and eyes have a higher risk for sun-related skin cancers, there are also risk factors for those of Hispanic, African-American and other descents. 

Preventing or reducing your risk for basal cell carcinoma often involves changing lifestyle behaviors and certain environmental exposures. This includes: 

  • Using sunscreen year-round, SPF 30 or higher, with both UVA and UVB protection – regardless of how light or dark your skin is naturally
  • Avoiding sun exposure midday when the sun’s rays are strongest (usually between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.) 
  • Wearing protective clothing that covers your neck, head and eyes 
  • Avoiding indoor tanning
  • Taking careful precautions to limit occupational exposure to toxic substances 
  • Examining your skin, head to toe, every month

As with any type of cancer prevention, the skin cancer specialists at the Multidisciplinary Skin Cancer Clinic at Miami Cancer Institute recommend eating a healthful diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables.

Our experts also recommend knowing and understanding your personal risk factors so that you can take appropriate steps to prevent or reduce your risk for basal cell carcinoma. 

With Vectra we have a baseline set of photographs that helps the dermatologist monitor the patient’s moles over time, then you can find new concerning lesions and possible skin cancer in its early phase.
Naiara Braghiroli, M.D., PhD Dermatologist
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