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What is Basal Cell Carcinoma?

What is Basal Cell Carcinoma?

"There is a spot on my skin that's unlike all my other spots; I went to a dermatologist who referred me to an oncologist saying I had basal cell carcinoma. Why didn't he just tell me I had skin cancer? We're not doctors; we don't understand their special language. Had it not been written down for me I would not have even known what to look up on my son's computer, and I did not even understand that I was being sent to a cancer specialist, all I got was the referral. There ought to be a law!"

Unfortunately that kind of thing happens every day, mostly because the patient does not ask questions, but merely nods silently as the doctor speaks. Older people do this more than younger people, and busy doctors don't always catch on that the patient knows nothing about what they're being told. 

Basal cell carcinoma is a form of skin cancer, but thankfully it is a very slow growing cancer as opposed to most cancers. Its occurrence is very common and most of the time it will be located somewhere on your skin that has been often exposed to the sunlight, but it may also include areas that have been exposed to ultraviolet radiation. That does not just mean sunlight though, for instance arc welders are exposed to it in their work, and many other industrial processes, however the link between artificial ultraviolet radiation and cancer has not be totally proven in the medical world. 

Because basal cell carcinoma looks to the layman as just an ordinary freckle, wart, or an ordinary mole or many other harmless skin conditions, it's often a real surprise to learn that you have basal cell carcinoma. Granted there are a number of symptoms that you might follow up on, such as skin sores that seem to bleed easily, some sores that basically never heal, a sore that has crusty spots on it or oozes, a sudden appearance of a scar like sore lacking an accompanying injury to account for it. Sometimes you may also have a sore with a sunken or depressed central area that should be looked at. 

Experience will tell the doctor if there is a suspicion of possible basal cell carcinoma, but to be absolutely sure of that diagnosis, the doctor will take a small piece of skin from you and send it to a laboratory for analysis. Medically that is termed a biopsy

Once that doctor is aware of the overall health you have, and the exact location, depth and size of your skin cancer, cancer treatment will follow. The most common method of dealing with a basal cell carcinoma is to cut it out of your skin. You'll receive a numbing agent, and after it's removed you'll have it stitched up. Another method is to scrape away the cancer, and use electricity to kill any remaining cancer though a process called electrodesiccation. Today it is also very common to use cryosurgery. That particular method freezes those cancer cells to the point of killing them. Sometimes, there is even a skin cream that you might be given to kill off the cancer, provided it's not very deep cancer in your skin. 

If your cancer is located on your nose, facial areas, or even your ears, they may take away skin very slowly until there are no more signs of cancer to be seen under a microscope, or at times doctors have also used special light to kill off cancer. This is referred to as photo dynamic therapy. If it turns out that surgery is not an option, then radiation may be introduced to fight off your basal cell carcinoma. 

Thankfully, kids today are especially warned to not use tanning salons, tanning beds, and sun lamps, and they are being told to always use at least sunscreens that have a sun protection factor referred to as an SPF rating of at least 15.


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