What does that mean?

So you’ve just been diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma, often called BCC for short. Carcinoma, that sounds a lot like cancer and it is. BUT, please don’t panic. Whilst it is something to be taken seriously, you’re very likely to live a very long time post diagnosis and treatment, especially if you or your doctor found it early.

What is a basal cell carcinoma?

Basal cell carcinomas are a non-melanoma skin cancer. They’re the most common and least dangerous form of skin cancer.

What are the survival rates after a basal cell carcinoma diagnosis?

Basal cell carcinomas rarely metastasize (in less than .05% of cases) or spread to other parts of the body (like melanoma does). So your prognosis following a basal cell carcinoma diagnosis will usually be excellent – with the proviso that it’s caught early and not allowed to progress.

According to Bader et al only 0.01% of all patients will die due to their BCC after being given a basal cell carcinoma diagnosis. Which to put it in better terms means that you’ve a 99.99% likelihood of surviving.

What does a basal cell carcinoma look like?

Often people will describe a BCC as a sore that just doesn’t really heal or a pimple that just doesn’t go away or repeatedly comes back. BCC size can vary from just a few millimetres to a couple of centimetres.

Basal cell carcinoma characteristics include;

  • A pearly, translucent appearance
  • A tendency to bleed if exposed to trauma
  • Dry scaly or crusty areas – especially in a larger BCC
  • Waxy papules with central dip or depression
  • A raised border
  • Threadlike red lines (think mini spider veins) across its surface
  • Slow growth possibly only 0.5 cm over 12-24 months
  • Erosion or ulceration
  • And sometimes it can have black-blue or brown areas

Whereabouts does a basal cell carcinoma usually occur?

Basal cell carcinoma usually occurs on the face/head (70%), neck, upper torso, shoulders and hands – think all the places that see most of the sun over the course of your lifetime. But they can happen in other places too – so keep an eye out.

How do I get a basal cell carcinoma diagnosis?

Usually your doctor will take a small sample of the spot/lump to send to the pathologist for testing – either by shave or punch biopsy.

How is a basal cell carcinoma treated?

Getting treatment after a basal cell carcinoma diagnosis is usually a fairly easy task. Depending on the size and location of your BCC, your doctor might suggest a topical treatment be applied to the skin.

However, often it can be necessary for your doctor to advise a quick procedure, in order to remove the BCC altogether. This usually requires freezing or excision – which is likely to be less scary than it sounds. The whole process is usually done under a local anaesthetic, relatively painlessly and quickly, and you’ll be left with nothing but a small scar once it’s healed – if you can even see it at all.

Depending on the site of the basal cell carcinoma, your doctor might remove it in their office or send you to a qualified plastic surgeon – especially if it’s on a central part of your face.

What happens after a basal cell carcinoma diagnosis?

While in the process of treating the cancer and afterwards, you should take greater safety precautions, in order to lessen the risk of recurrent cancer. Make it a priority to protect yourself from the sun in any way you can – by applying sunscreen, wearing hats and shades, or even cutting down your exposure to the sun (especially during the middle of the day 10am-3pm).

 If it’s not that dangerous, do I really need to do anything?

Yes, yes, yes. Neglected tumours, even if they’re slow growing can lead to some nasty outcomes – think open, weeping sores, infections, and skin grafts.

So, please, if you suspect that you’ve got a BCC or you’d like to get a skin cancer check up to put your mind at rest, we’d be delighted to assist. You can book your appointment by calling us on 999 0336 (Northern Beaches) or 9223 1608 (Sydney CBD), or by dropping us a note via the form below and we’ll be in touch.