Basal Cell Carcinoma

Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer. This cancer usually grows slowly and rarely spreads to other tissues in the body. Rarely fatal, basal cell carcinoma can cause damage to the nearby tissue. If there is risk of damage, the cancer may need treatment or removal.

Risk Factors

Factors that increase your risk of developing basal cell carcinoma include:

  • Blonde or red hair
  • Blue or green eyes
  • Childhood sunburns, freckling or long periods of sun exposure
  • Fair skin that rarely tans
  • A family history of skin cancer
  • A personal history of skin cancer
  • Treatment that suppresses the immune system, such as having an organ transplant
  • History of radiation therapy
  • Frequent use of tanning beds
  • Certain rare genetic disorders, such as Gorlin syndrome

Signs of Basal Cell Carcinoma

Basal cell carcinoma can appear as:

  • A sore that may crust, bleed, or ooze for three weeks without healing
  • A raised, red patch that may be itchy
  • A shiny bump that can be pearl-like in appearance or, less often, dark in color, much like a mole
  • A pink growth with a slightly raised border and dip in the middle
  • A patch of skin that seems shiny and tight, much like a scar

Your doctor will take a sample of the growth and test it to diagnose it and to determine the cancer stage and type.

Treatment Options for Basal Cell Cancer

Options include:

  • Mohs surgery
  • Removal of the growth with simple surgery
  • Plastic surgery to repair any cosmetic problems that occur after treatment
  • Electrodesiccation and curettage

For people who are not able to have surgery, other treatment options include:

  • Use of liquid nitrogen to freeze the growth
  • Radiation therapy
  • Photodynamic therapy
  • Creams, especially fluorouracil or imiquimod


To reduce your chances of getting basal cell carcinoma, take these steps:

  • Reduce your sun exposure. Wear sunscreen, long sleeves, pants, and hats.
  • Stay out of the sun during the middle of the day.
  • UV light is stronger at higher elevations. If you ski or do other winter sports, wear sunscreen.
  • At-risk adults should examine themselves monthly. They should also get regular full-body exams by a dermatologist. The doctor will check for moles, freckles, and other growths.
  • Limit how much time your child spends in the sun. Discourage your child from tanning.


Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.