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Basal Cell Cancer of the Face

written by: VickieDawn • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 9/10/2010

Basal cell skin cancer on the face is the most common skin cancer. Find out who gets it and why. What are the symptoms and how is it treated? Can it be prevented? Can you be at risk if you are over 50 years old?

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    Basal cell skin cancer on the face is the most common form of skin cancer. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, one in three new cancer cases are skin cancer and the majority of those are basal cell.

    The face is a common area for skin cancer because of its exposure to the sun. Precautions should be taken to protect the skin from frequent sun exposure.

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    What is Basal Cell Carcinoma?

    Cancer, also known as carcinoma, occurs when mutated cells begin to attack healthy cells. It can happen at any time, to anybody. Cancer does not have a litmus test of who it will attack.

    Basal cells are located in the lower level of the skin epidermis. The epidermis is the top layer of skin so exposure to harmful UV rays is understandable. Sun exposure is the major cause of basal cell carcinoma on the face. Occasionally other areas not exposed to the sun develop skin cancer and the causes can include arsenic contact, burns, scars, tattoos, vaccinations and radiation exposure.

    Once the cancer cells develop they attack the healthy tissue and that is when it becomes noticeable. If left untreated, it can continue to spread and cause severe damage to tissue and eventually death can occur in rare cases.

    Basal cell carcinoma has a high rate of recurrence. Chances are it will recur within five years of treatment.

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    Risk Factors

    There are some genetic causes for basal cell carcinomas. Bazex syndrome can be a cause. This syndrome is characterized by body hair and a lack of sweating. Two other genetic conditions that can be a cause are Gorlin syndrome causing numerous cancer spots, and Xeroderma pigmentosum that carries an extreme sensitivity to the sun and no means to repair sun damaged skin.

    Some people are more at risk than others. Light skinned individuals are more at risk than dark skinned people. People with blue, green and grey eyes, or blonde or red hair are more at risk. Occupational hazards that expose workers to the sun for long periods of time include lifeguards, construction workers, and farmers.

    People over the age of 50 make up 80 percent of the cases of basal cell skin cancer on the face. A family history of the disease is a risk factor. Taking immune suppressant drugs are a known risk factor.

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    Symptoms

    An open sore that doesn’t heal or a reddish patch that might look like a scrape can be basal cell carcinoma. Other features are shiny bumps or a pink growth. A scar like abrasion that appears without explanation. The edges of the sore may appear uneven and the coloring can be uneven in appearance. Any type of change on the skin should be viewed with suspicion. A self check of the skin can be done routinely once a month.

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    Treatment

    Early detection can bring a positive outcome. The doctor will determine what type of cancer is present by doing a biopsy. Surgery is most often used as a treatment. It should be performed by a surgeon skilled in facial reconstruction to avoid scarring.

    Freezing is an option but it can cause crusting. Laser surgery is becoming popular. A surgical procedure called Mohs removes thin layers of skin one at a time. The skin specimen is viewed through a microscope before removing more tissue. It allows the physician to remove only the cancerous tissue. Topical creams are used for treatment of basal cell skin cancer in minor cases.

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    Complications

    The greatest complication is the continued growth of the cancer. It can grow to where it can become disfiguring on the face. A spot near the eye can grow into the orbit if not addressed properly.

    Basal cell carcinoma can be fatal and though it is considered rare, it does occur.

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    Prevention

    Use sun screen when exposed to the sun. Keep skin covered as much as possible. Some medications such as tetracycline can cause sensitivity to the sun. Read the precautions for all medications that you take.

    Get plenty of vitamin D. According to the Mayo Clinic, vitamin D has been known to reduce the rate of certain cancers. Also include in your diet plenty of fruits and vegetables. It is believed that the antioxidants and vitamins help reduce cancer risks.

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    Following certain guidelines to good skin health may reduce your risk of skin cancer. Prevention is key but so is early detection. Be sure to check your skin regularly for any changes.

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    References

    Skin Cancer Foundation: Basal Cell Carcinoma - http://www.skincancer.org/basal-cell-carcinoma.html

    Merck Manual: Basal Cell Carcinoma - http://www.merck.com/mmhe/sec18/ch216/ch216b.html?qt=basal cell carcinoma&alt=sh

    Mayo clinic: Basal Cell Carcinoma - http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/basal-cell-carcinoma/DS00925

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