MSK Explains: Basal Cell Carcinoma

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VIDEO02:23

What is basal cell carcinoma? Dr. Steven Wang explains what causes this type of cancer and when to seek professional help.

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Basal cell carcinoma, or basal cell skin cancer, is one of the most common types of skin cancer. There are two major causes of basal cell skin cancer. First is genetics. Individuals with fair skin, lots of freckles, red hair, and can get sunburned very easily. Also, individuals who have a great deal of sun exposure, UV tanning, also radiation, and those individuals can also get basal cell skin cancer.

If you see something that's concerning, a lesion that's growing, changing, and that has symptoms such as pain, bleeding, itching, the best thing to do is go to see a dermatologist. Go see a professional. Mohs surgery is one of the most effective treatment methods. The technique involves the physician serving both as a surgeon and a pathologist. We remove the cancer layer by layer, and after each layer we check it under the microscope to make sure the tumor is completely removed. Because it is a tissue sparing technique, the final defect will be much smaller and the scar will be much smaller. And you will have a much better cosmetic outcome.

Basal cell skin cancer is one of the best curable skin cancers, if it is caught early. The treatment for that is relatively easy. You can use a cream. You can do some easy procedures of scraping and burn -- the technical word for it is electrodesiccation and curettage. Or you can excise it. Or you can do Mohs surgery. And you have choices such as radiation treatment.

A patient does not need any referrals from their physicians to come into Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center to see a dermatologist or physician for the treatment of basal cell or squamous cell cancers. All they have to do is call us. We are here to help them.