Basal cell carcinoma

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If you're like many Americans, you've spent hours in the sun trying to get the perfect, golden tan. But tanning has its downsides, including an increased risk of skin cancers like basal cell carcinoma.

Most people who get skin cancer have the basal cell carcinoma form. The good news is that this type of skin cancer grows very slowly compared to the more dangerous melanoma type. The bad news is, it's still cancer.

You're more likely to get basal cell carcinoma on the parts of your skin that are exposed to the sun, like your scalp, if you don't wear a hat when you go outside. People who are fair-skinned, with blond hair and blue eyes are also at greater risk for skin cancer than those with darker skin.

To find out if you may have basal cell carcinoma, first, do a skin check. Look in a mirror and check your body for any bumps that look white, pink, or brown, or that have crusted over and bleed but don't heal. If you spot anything unusual on your skin, see your dermatologist. The doctor can perform a biopsy removing some or all of the growth and sending it to a lab where it can be checked for cancer.

Basal cell carcinoma doesn't grow very quickly, and it's not likely to spread. Your doctor should be able to remove the bumps by cutting, scraping, or freezing it off. Once the cancer is removed, there's a good chance you'll be cured. But because skin cancer can come back, you always want to keep a close eye on your skin, and call your doctor if you notice any new growths.

A lot of diseases are beyond your control, but skin cancer is one condition you do have some control over. The best way to avoid getting it is to stop sun worshipping. Seek shade during the hours when the sun is strongest, usually from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and especially during the summer months. If you have to be outside during the middle of the day, slather on a thick layer of sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, one that protects against both UVA and UVB rays. Reapply it often if you're in the water where the sunscreen can wash off. Also wear a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, and long sleeves. If you want a healthy glow, get one from a bottle. Rubbing on a tanning cream is safer than exposing your skin to the sun.

Basal cell carcinoma

Version Info

  • Last reviewed on 2/19/2016
  • Laura J. Martin, MD, MPH, ABIM Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Hospice and Palliative Medicine, Atlanta, GA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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