Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC)

What is basal cell carcinoma?

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) also known as a rodent ulcer is the most common form of skin cancer. BCC’s can be cured in almost every case, they grow very slowly and never spread to other areas of the body. Treatment may be more complicated if they have been neglected for a long time. If left untreated BCC’s can disfigure, especially on the face and if they are in an awkward place such as near the eye, nose or ear. Early recognition and treatment are very important.

What causes BCC?

The most significant risk factor in the development of basal cell carcinoma is long-term exposure to sunlight and episodes of burning in the sun. The risk increases if you have a tendency to freckle and have fair skin. BCC’s usually occur on exposed skin i.e. hands, face, ears, scalp, lips, shoulders and back.

Treatment for BCC

The vast majority of BCC’s can be cured. The treatment options depend on the size, site and number of BCC’s present. Treatment for BCC’s can include curettage (scraping), cryotherapy (freezing), application of a topical chemotherapy cream or photodynamic therapy (PDT) where the lesion is covered with a special cream then exposed to red light. Minor surgery is another option and is usually carried out using a local anaesthetic. 

Following removal, the tissue is sent away to be examined under the microscope. It may take up to four weeks for the biopsy results to be ready. It the lesion is completely  removed  at diagnosis this will mean that no further treatment is required. Occasionally it may be necessary to take more skin to ensure no cancer cells have been left behind.

The future

Following surgery, if all of the cancer has been removed you will not require any other treatment. However, if you have had one BCC it increases the chances that you may develop others. It is important that you check your skin regularly, looking for early warning signs.

Check for any new or existing skin lumps or moles that enlarge, change colour, bleed, itch or fail to heal. Most changes are harmless but they could indicate the start of a skin cancer. See your doctor if in doubt.

Taking Care in the Sun

  • Stay in the shade between the hours of 11am and 3pm.
  • Make sure you never burn.
  • Avoid the use of sun beds.
  • Always cover up. Wear light cool clothing of a tight weave, wide-brimmed hats and U.V. protective sunglasses, look for the CE or BS EN 1836:1997 mark these offer the highest protection.
  • Take extra care of children as their skin is delicate. Very young babies should be kept out of strong direct sunshine.
  • Use a sunscreen of factor 30 and above, according to your skin type, ensure the sunscreen has UVB and UVA protection. Look for the star rating ****or ***** on the label, the price is not important.  Apply it 15-30 minutes before you go out and re-apply regularly; every 2-3 hours.
  • Remember: Pass on the message to family and friends about protecting themselves from the sun and being aware of changes to moles on their skin.

Patient Information Leaflets

Other sources of information:

The Mustard Tree Macmillan Centre
Level 3, 
Derriford Hospital, 

Monday – Friday (Drop in)
Tel 01752 763672

Macmillan Cancer Support
Freephone: 0808 808 0000

Marcs Line (Melanoma and Related Cancers of the Skin)
Tel: 01722 415071

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