question and answer
Spot skin cancer sooner
October 2011
Can you provide some tips on recognizing early basal cell carcinoma? Michelle Klassen, MD, Calgary, AB

Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of cancer in humans. It’s estimated that 1 million Americans this year will be given this diagnosis. It’s almost exclusively caused by long-term sun exposure. Therefore basal cell carcinoma is generally found on parts of the body that are more exposed to sunlight. It’s rare to see a basal cell carcinoma in parts of the body that are not exposed to sunlight.

Basal cell carcinoma frequently begins as a small papule. It may be flesh-coloured or reddened. Frequently the papule will almost appear transparent in nature. Small jagged blood vessels or telangiectasia are seen on the surface of the papule. The patient may report that this spot is fragile and will crust or bleed. They may also report that the spot is slowly growing in size.

The enlarged blood vessels over the surface of the basal cell carcinoma are a very common and reliable feature. You may require magnification in order to see this change.

The best way to treat basal cell carcinoma is to surgically remove the lesion. This can be done by surgical excision or curettage. If the location of the basal cell carcinoma is cosmetically sensitive or close to major vital structures, then consider referral to a dermatologist or plastic surgeon.

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