Let’s talk about skin cancer. It can be a scary topic to discuss, and sometimes it is easier to ignore the subject than to face the truth.

Basal cell carcinoma is one of the most common forms of skin cancer in Canada.  Fortunately, this type of skin cancer is the least dangerous, but that does not mean you can simply ignore it.  BCCs must be treated or they will continue to grow by destroying and invading surrounding skin tissue which can sometimes lead to disfigurement.

Let us start with a little background information on why this type of skin cancer is called a basal cell carcinoma.  Everyone has basal cells, which are found at the bottom of our epidermis.  This type of skin cancer occurs when one of the basal cells develops a mutation in its DNA (the basal cell’s DNA controls the process of creating new skin cells).  When this process is functioning properly, new skin cells are produced in the basal cell; over time, the older cells are pushed toward the skin’s surface, where eventually these old cells die and are sloughed off. When a mutation occurs in the basal cell, the DNA instructs the cell to multiply rapidly and continues to grow when it would normally die off and be shed from the skin.  Eventually, this overgrowth in cells may form a cancerous tumor; this is the lesion that appears on the skin in the form of a basal cell carcinoma.

Ultraviolet radiation from the sun is the primary cause of this type of skin cancer (if you would like more information on ultraviolet radiation, please see our blog “The Sun’s Relationship with Your Skin”).

Factors that may increase your risk of developing basal cell carcinoma include: chronic sun exposure, frequent or severe sunburns as a child, increasing age, fair skin, personal or family history of skin cancer, radiation therapy, renal organ transplant, and patients whose immune systems are compromised.

What should you look for?  The appearance of this type of skin cancer can vary, but the early warnings sings include:

  • A firm, flesh-coloured, or slightly reddish bump, often with a pearly border
  • A sore or pimple-like growth that bleeds, crusts over, and then reappears
  • A small, scaly patch seen most often on the trunk or limbs
  • The area may have small blood vessels on the surface which give it a red colour

It is important to note that BCCs can look quite different from one person to another; when in doubt, check it out.  Any sore that does not heal within four weeks should be examined by a dermatologist.  Follow your instincts and visit your dermatologist if you see anything new, changing, or unusual on your skin.

Now that you know what to look for, an important question to ask is how do you help prevent this type of skin cancer?  Avoid being in the sun during the hottest hours of the day, wear protective clothing, wear SPF year-round (even when it is cool or rainy out), and avoid tanning beds.  Lastly, it is important to perform self-skin checks at home and report any changes you may notice to your family doctor or dermatologist.

Sometimes the hard topics in life are worth discussing, they might just save a life!

References :  Dermatology.ca, skincancer.org