Symptoms of Basal Cell Cancer

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common type of skin cancer, and it’s estimated that 4.3 million people are diagnosed each year in the United States. It develops in the basal cells, which originate in the lowest level of the epidermis layer of the skin. BCC is most common in people with fair skin, but can affect people with any skin color. Before being diagnosed with skin cancer, most patients with BCC usually already have warning signs such as age spots, discolored skin, and wrinkles. 

Basal cell carcinoma is very treatable when found early, so knowing the warning signs is important. A common sign of BCC is a small sore that never seems to heal. It can often be dismissed as a benign pimple or sore. Other symptoms include a pinkish growth or a patch of scaly skin. BCC is most likely to be found on the head or neck.

Basal Cell Carcinoma


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Frequent Symptoms

BCC is a slow-growing skin cancer, and the symptoms can sometimes be mistaken for harmless skin conditions like a minor injury or acne scar. The best way to notice the symptoms right away is by performing regular skin self-checks. If you notice a new growth or sore, keep an eye on it. If it starts changing in appearance or never heals, it’s time to see your dermatologist

Skin Growth

A new skin growth is the most common sign of basal cell carcinoma. It will usually present on the face, ears, scalp, neck, shoulders or other areas that receive frequent direct sunlight. 

It usually has the following characteristics:

  • Round shape
  • Reddish/pinkish color
  • Could also appear the same color as your skin
  • Shiny or pearly 
  • Dips in the center
  • Raised, rolled edges
  • A wart-like growth 
  • Blue, black, or brown areas
  • Blood vessels are visible

Open Sore

An open sore that does not heal or tends to heal and then returns is a sign of BCC. A common way to find BCC is from a small shaving cut that doesn’t heal. BCC sores are very sensitive and cut easily. If the bleeding doesn’t stop or the sore does not heal within a week, see your dermatologist.

The sore may also:

  • Bleed
  • Ooze discharge
  • Crust over 

A Patch of Scaly Skin

A patch of scaly skin that does not heal is also a sign of basal cell carcinoma. The scaly patch often appears near the ear and can look like a skin injury. 

It will look:

  • Slightly raised
  • Like irritated skin
  • Red
  • Dry
  • Like an age spot
  • Have poorly defined borders 

Scar-Like Growth

Basal cell carcinoma can sometimes appear as a flat scar on the surface of the skin. Keep an eye out for scars that develop without an injury and never seem to fade.

The scar-like growth will be:

  • Firm to the touch
  • Pale yellow
  • Of a waxy texture 

Rare Symptoms

Most cases of basal cell carcinoma present as a painless skin growth, such as a new sore or nodule on the head or neck. A rare symptom of basal cell cancer is noticing a growth in an area of the body that does not receive sun exposure, as well as one that causes irritation. 

Pigmented Skin Growth

Basal cell carcinomas are usually red, pink, or the color of your skin. They can sometimes appear tan, dark brown or black, much like melanoma

A pigmented skin growth indicative of basal cell carcinoma will have:

  • A mole-like appearance
  • Poorly defined borders
  • Slightly raised appearance

Skin Sensitivity

Most cases of BCC are painless and look like minor skin irritations. There are rare cases though that can cause pain and skin sensitivity. 

People with basal cell carcinoma may have:

  • Numbness and tingling
  • Pins and needles feeling
  • Sensitivity 
  • Itching 

Complications

Fortunately, basal cell cancer does not have a long list of complications because it is usually caught early when it is highly curable. However, once it spreads, it can quickly lead to other health problems. 

Skin Cancer

Once you have experienced BCC, you are more at risk of developing BCC again, as well as other types of skin cancer like squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma. A recurrence, or return of the original cancer, can occur if some cancer cells are not removed during surgery. These cells can then remain in the skin undetected and start growing again. 

If you have experienced BCC on your nose, ears or lips, you are at higher risk of having a recurrence. Talk with your dermatologist about how to monitor your skin and protect yourself from sun damage. 

Other Types of Cancer

Even though BCC is a slow-growing cancer, left undetected it can grow and metastasize to other areas of the body. The most common areas it can spread to are the lymph nodes, lungs, bones, and liver. Basal cell carcinoma is usually diagnosed before this point.

Changes in Appearance

Basal cell carcinoma tends to spread out across the skin as it grows. This can lead to a change in your appearance and disfigurement. The needed treatment, such as surgery or radiation, may also be disfiguring. This is usually especially bothersome when the growth appears on your face or ears. The best way to prevent this complication is by catching the growth early before it has a chance to spread. 

When to See a Doctor/Go to the Hospital

The best time to go to the doctor is as soon as you recognize a new skin growth or irritation. Plan to see your dermatologist for a regular skin check once per year. If you notice a new or changing skin growth, see them sooner. 

If you have any known risk factors for basal cell carcinoma, be especially vigilant about skin self-checks and regular dermatology appointments. Risk factors of BCC include:

  • Fair skin, hair, or eye color
  • History of sunburns
  • Tanning bed use
  • Living in a warm climate (since this usually means more sun exposure)
  • History of skin cancer
  • Weakened immune system

Skin Cancer Self-Check

Dermatologists recommend that each of us performs a skin self-check every month and sees a dermatologist for a professional check annually. Each month, take time to inspect your skin from head to toe. Look for any spots or growths that are new or changing.  

Start by inspecting your face, being sure to check the backs of your ears. To check your scalp, a blow dryer and a hand mirror may be helpful for seeing hard-to-reach places. Next scan your hands, arms, and torso. When inspecting your back, use a full-length mirror. Finally, inspect your legs, genitals, ankles, and feet (including the soles). 

A Word From Verywell

Basal cell carcinoma is a common skin cancer that is very treatable when found early. The best way to catch it early is by performing skin self-checks and monitoring for new skin growths, patches of scaly skin, and sores that do not heal. The best thing to do is to have any new skin growth of changes in your skin checked out. People with risk factors of basal cell carcinoma should be especially vigilant when it comes to skin checks. If you are unsure about a change in your skin, see your dermatologist for a screening and treatment plan.

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Article Sources
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