Basal cell skin cancer is the most common form of skin cancer....

and the easiest to treat.

There are many warning signs of basal cell skin cancer that you can easily notice on your body, but you have to pay attention.

You need to look for:

  • A persistent, non–healing sore
  • A Reddish Patch or irritated area, sometimes the patch crusts over, is itchy or hurt
  • A Shiny Bump that often is confused with a mole

They can be:

  • Pearly or translucent

  • Pink, red or white

  • Tan, black or brown, especially in dark-haired people

  • Pinkish color with a slightly elevated, uneven border and a crusted center. Tiny blood vessels may develop on the surface

  • A Scar-Like spot which is white, yellow or waxy, and often has poorly defined borders. The skin itself appears shiny and taut. This sign can indicate the presence of small roots which makes the tumor larger than it appears on the surface.

    You need a doctor to diagnose basal cell skin cancer.

    The "Scar-Like spot" list above is exactly what mine looked like. I had never known skin cancer looked like this. I always thought it was dark, scaly, raised and looked more like an irritated mole. You know the kind old people have with hair growing out of it.

    Well, this spot on my cheek was about the size of a small pencil eraser and looked just like scar tissue. It was white and fleshy colored and really, not very noticeable (except to me, of course). In fact, I would point it out to friends and they would all tell me it was nothing. That was until I went on vacation to Club Med and met a medical student.

    My story:

    As I said, I was on vacation with my best friend Diane and met some medical students. Yes, they were very cute, but very unavailable – bummer.

    One of them was dating a fellow doctor who was doing her residency in Dermatology. After we got back, we all met in NYC to exchange pictures (Yes, this was before e-mail and Digital Cameras - Circa 1993).

    I asked the resident to look at the "small white spot" on my cheek. "Yep” - she was confident it was basal cell carcinoma and insistedI see a Dermatologist.

    On the recommendation of a co-worker, I made an appointment with Louis N. Vogel, M.D. in New York the following week. He is still the only dermatologist I will go to. In or out of network.

    He agreed with the resident and performed a biopsy. This is a fast and painless procedure that confirms the visual diagnosis.

    If the biopsy reveals that "tumor cells" are present, some form of treatment is necessary. Fortunately, there are several effective methods to get rid of basal cell tumor.

    Your choice of treatment is based on:

    • The type, size, and location of the tumor,
    • How deeply the tumor has penetrated into the skin, as well as,
    • Your age and overall health, and
    • The procedure which would cause the least amount of visible cosmetic damage.

    Treatment can almost always be done on an outpatient basis in the physician’s office or at a clinic.


    Back in me:

    Under local anesthesia, Dr. Vogel used a scalpel to remove my entire growth along with the surrounding borders of normal skin, as a safety margin. However, my tumor was very deep and a lot bigger under the surface of the skin.

    Thankfully, he saw my eyes bug out with the "I don't want a huge scar on my face" look. My gosh, I was only 26 at the time.

    Excisional Surgery can often leave a scar. He carefully closed up the site with a few stitches and sent the tissue to the laboratory to verify that all the cancerous cells have been removed. Unfortunately for me, the borders were not all clear.

    He recommended me to a Mohs Surgeon. Mohs Micrographic Surgery is the most effective and precise method for treating basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers.

    A few days later, I was sitting in the office of Roy G. Geronemous, MD waiting for my next procedure. MOHS Micrographic Surgery has the highest success rate of all treatments for skin cancer - up to 99 percent. This technique is the treatment of choice for cancers of the face and other sensitive areas. It relies on the accuracy of a microscopic surgical procedure to trace the edges of the cancer and ensure complete removal of all tumors down to the roots during the initial surgery.


    This option is simple. After local anesthesia your doctor will scoop away the cancer with a Curette and uses electricity to kill any remaining cancer cells.

    I had this done a few years ago, very close to the initial tumor on my cheek with no additional scaring. All clear since!


    Cryosurgery is a method of “super freezing” tissue with liquid nitrogen in order to destroy it. The technique is used to treat tumors, control pain, and control bleeding. This may be effective for small, well-defined superficial tumors. My husband has had this done.


    Radiation may be used if the cancer has spread to organs or lymph nodes or for tumors that can't be treated with surgery. It may also be used where tumors are difficult to excise or where it is important to preserve surrounding tissue such as the lip. Its use is declining.


    Topical skin cancer treatments are used to treat early superficial skin cancers that are limited to the top layer of skin, such as Solar or Actinic Keratoses. The two creams are 5-fluorouracil (trade names Efudex® and Carac®) and imiquimod (trade name Aldara®).

    5-fluorouracil is a chemotherapeutic medicine that works by disrupting the growth of cancerous cells. Cancerous cells are rapidly growing and dividing to form "children" cells and the 5-fluoruracil cream prevents these cells from being able to reproduce new cancerous cells. This is used most often on the face, neck and chest.

    Imiquimod is a newer agent. This cream, works by stimulating the immune system within the skin which helps fight the skin cancer.

    Imiquimod (trade name Aldara®) should be used for treatment of basal cell carcinoma only when surgery is less appropriate. The FDA approved imiquimod for the treatment of basal cell skin cancer on the body, neck, arms and legs only. Not for the face.

    Treatment lengths for both 5-fluorouracil and Imiquimod cream vary and your dermatologist will decide your best course.

    These treatments are no picnic. When using these creams, the area treated turns bright red and the skin actually looks worse before it clears up. This is an important point as the skin is visibly irritated during use. Learn about my mom and brother’s experience with Efudex®.

    Remember, sometimes the treatment is awful, but no treatment is worse.

    Basal cell carcinoma may spread to the tissues around the cancer, but it usually does not spread to other parts of the body (metastasize). Squamous cell skin cancer can metastasize to organs and tissues and be much more disfiguring.

    Basal cell cancers can re-occur in the same place or new cancer can develop in adjacent locations. Once diagnosed, many patients will develop new skin cancers sometime in their lifetime. That is why it is very important to keep vigilant about your skin’s health.

    Ask your doctor how often he/she wants to see you for skin cancer screenings. I only go every two years now. I have been very good to my skin since my diagnosis in 1993.

    Basal cell skin cancer is one of three non-melanoma skin cancers. Learn about Actinic Keratoses and Squamous cell skin cancer here:

    Any information on this site is not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure skin cancer. This site is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace proper medical care. Always seek the advice of a trained health professional with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before seeking any treatment. Proper medical attention should always be sought for specific ailments. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking medical treatment due to information obtained on

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