As unfortunate as it is, you likely know someone who currently has or has had skin cancer. Chances are, it’s been Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC), which is the most common type of skin cancer. Here in our Northern California Dermatology office, we see a lot of people who have basal cell carcinoma.
What is basal cell carcinoma?
This type of skin cancer is the result of DNA damage caused by UV rays as I explained in the first post of this series called Understanding Skin Cancer: Melanoma. The basal cells are at the very bottom (base) of your top living skin cell layer, which is called the epidermis. When the harmful rays of the sun penetrate into the deepest portion of your epidermis, the basal cell DNA is damaged. Once damaged, the cancers start to grow.
Basal cell carcinoma are more common in people who have had a lot of sun exposure over their lifetime and in people who have a history of multiple bad sunburns. Also, fair-skinned complexions and some families are more prone to it than others.
The statistics are staggering – there are almost 3 million cases of basal cell carcinoma diagnosed annually! We see a lot of them on a daily basis in our practice. They can look very subtle and are often thought to be a rash, mole or age spot by the untrained eye. But, board certified dermatologists are experts at detecting these subtleties and catching BCCs at their earliest stages. This is why it is critically important to get regular skin checks!
What are some of the signs of basal cell carcinomas?
- Flesh-colored or yellow lesions that may look a lot like a scar; they may be raised or flat
- Pink lesions that bleed easily, itch or hurt
- Pink, pearly (looking like a pearl) lesions with tiny blood vessels in them
- Pink spots with rolled edges resembling a donut
- Brown lesions that have a translucent or waxy appearance to them
What can happen when you have a basal cell carcinoma?
Although this type of skin cancer rarely spreads to other parts of the body, it’s important to catch it early because, like all cancers, it will invade into important tissues around it such as muscle, blood vessels, bone and more.
Most BCCs happen on the head and neck. If they grow near the nose, eyes or ears, you can imagine the damage it can cause. This is particularly important to know because the most common place they appear is on the face, which gets the most sun exposure. It’s why anyone with a lot of sun exposure should be screened by a dermatologist. When we catch BCCs early, we can easily treat them before damage to these vital structures happens. What’s more, any scar that may result from the treatment has the potential to be smaller the earlier BCCs are addressed.
How can you avoid skin cancer that damages important facial structures and that could cause a big scar on a person’s face from skin cancer surgery? Fortunately, it is possible.
Follow these sun protection tips to minimize your risk of getting skin cancer:
- Avoid sun during its peak hours between 10am and 3pm and seek shade whenever possible.
- Wear zinc-containing sunscreen! We have plenty of wonderful lightweight sunscreens in our office and online that our dermatologists swear by!
- Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before going outdoors, and reapply every two hours if sweating or swimming.
- Wear a broad-brimmed hat.
- Consider sun-protective clothing such as Coolibar has.
Know that you need sun protection for your skin 365 days a year. Yep, that’s right. The winter sun isn’t safe and neither is the sun you get through a window. Both are full of cancer and wrinkle-causing UVA. It means that protecting your skin from the sun should be part of your daily skin care routine.
Not sure if your sunscreen is really good enough?
Sunscreens are definitely not all created equal. See Dr. Bailey’s sunscreen comparison chart to find a trusted sunscreen that’s right for your skin. Some of our favorite sunscreens include:
Suntegrity 5 in 1 BB Cream for dry to normal facial skin
MDSolarSciences Mineral Tinted Cream, tinted and oil-absorbing for oily skin
EltaMD UV Clear Sunscreen, untinted protection for oily to normal skin
Citrix for all over water resistant protection for all skin types
Solbar Zinc, also for all over water resistant protection
Not sure about the hat thing?
To protect your scalp, face and neck skin (the most common sites for skin cancer) you want to wear a 3-5 inch full circumference-brimmed hat that also covers your scalp. Ball caps and visors aren’t enough! Your hat should be convenient, crushable and packable too. See these easy-to-wear hats that we believe best fit these criteria.
Stay tuned for my next article on the second most common type of skin cancer: squamous cell carcinoma!
Dr. Hayes – Board Certified Dermatologist