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St. Louis Guide to Basal Cell Carcinoma

Close-up image of a basal cell carcinoma, showing a raised, pearly bump on the skin.

Did you know that basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer? This form of cancer develops in the basal cells of your skin, which are responsible for producing new skin cells. But here's the good part: basal cell carcinoma is slow-growing and rarely spreads to other parts of your body.

Basal cell carcinomas can occur anywhere on your body, but they are commonly found on areas that have been exposed to the sun, such as your face, neck, and arms.

Indoor tanning and prolonged exposure to sunlight without protection increase the risk of developing basal cell carcinoma. So it's crucial to protect yourself from harmful UV rays by regularly applying sunscreen and wearing protective clothing.

At Mid-County Dermatology in St. Louis, MO, our board-certified dermatologists detect and treat basal cell skin cancer regularly. If you are a St. Louisan and have not had a skin cancer screening recently, please call/text us at 314-994-0200 to schedule. Alternatively, you can schedule online. Our dermatologists discuss basal cell skin cancer more below. 

Who's at Risk for Basal Cell Carcinoma? 

Basal cell carcinoma, a type of skin cancer, is primarily caused by prolonged exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or tanning beds. This excessive exposure can lead to significant damage to the DNA in skin cells, resulting in the development of cancerous lesions. Understanding the risk factors associated with basal cell carcinoma is crucial for prevention and early detection.

One of the most prominent risk factors for basal cell carcinoma is fair skin. Individuals with fair skin have less melanin, which provides natural protection against UV radiation. As a result, they are more susceptible to sunburns and increased damage from sun exposure. Light hair and blue/green eyes also contribute to this heightened risk due to reduced pigmentation in these areas.

A history of sunburns or excessive sun exposure throughout one's life significantly increases the chances of developing basal cell carcinoma. The cumulative effect of repeated exposure can gradually weaken the skin's defenses against harmful UV rays. Over time, this can lead to genetic mutations that trigger abnormal growth and division of skin cells.

Genetic predisposition also plays a role in determining an individual's susceptibility to basal cell carcinoma. Certain gene variations may make some people more prone to developing this form of cancer than others. Family history can be an essential indicator as well; if close relatives have had cases of basal cell carcinoma, there may be an increased likelihood for other family members to develop it too.

The epidemiology surrounding basal cell carcinoma further highlights its association with specific risk factors. Studies indicate that individuals who work outdoors or live in sunny climates are at higher risk due to prolonged sun exposure. Moreover, certain occupations that involve extended periods under direct sunlight—such as construction workers or agricultural laborers—face an elevated risk compared to those with limited outdoor activities.

It is important to note that while these risk factors increase the likelihood of developing basal cell carcinoma, they do not guarantee its occurrence. Conversely, some individuals may have no apparent risk factors but still develop the disease. Therefore, it is essential for everyone to prioritize sun protection measures and regular skin examinations to detect any potential signs of basal cell carcinoma at an early stage.

By understanding the causes and risk factors associated with basal cell carcinoma, individuals can make informed decisions about their health and take necessary precautions to reduce their chances of developing this type of skin cancer. Regular use of sunscreen, wearing protective clothing, seeking shade during peak sun hours, and avoiding tanning beds are all crucial steps in minimizing exposure to harmful UV radiation.

Identifying Basal Cell Carcinoma on the Skin

Basal cell carcinoma, also known as basal cell skin cancer, is one of the most common types of skin cancer. It typically develops in areas exposed to the sun, such as the face, neck, and arms. Recognizing the signs of basal cell carcinoma is crucial for early detection and treatment. Here are some key indicators to look out for:

  1. Pearly or Waxy Bumps with a Rolled Border:

    • Basal cell carcinomas often appear as small pearly or waxy bumps on the skin.

    • These bumps may have a translucent quality and can be shiny in appearance.

    • One characteristic feature is their rolled border, which distinguishes them from ordinary pimples or moles.

  2. Flat, Flesh-Colored Patches Resembling Scars:

    • Another sign of basal cell carcinoma is the presence of flat patches that resemble scars.

    • These patches are usually flesh-colored or slightly pinkish.

    • They may have a smooth surface and can be mistaken for benign skin conditions.

  3. Pink Growths with Raised Edges and Central Indentation:

    • Some basal cell carcinomas manifest as pink growths on the skin.

    • These growths often have raised edges that gradually slope down towards a central indentation.

    • The central area might appear ulcerated or crusted.

  4. Sores That Continuously Heal and Reopen:

    • Basal cell carcinomas can sometimes present as sores that persistently heal and reopen.

    • These non-healing sores may bleed occasionally or form scabs that fall off only to reveal an unhealed wound underneath.

It's important to note that while these signs are indicative of basal cell carcinoma, they do not provide a definitive diagnosis. To confirm whether you have this type of skin cancer, consult a dermatologist who may recommend a skin biopsy. A skin biopsy involves removing a small sample of tissue from the affected area for further examination under a microscope.


Early detection and treatment of basal cell carcinoma are crucial to prevent its progression and potential complications. If left untreated, basal cell carcinomas can invade surrounding tissues and cause disfigurement or damage to underlying structures. Prompt medical intervention can help ensure the successful removal of cancerous cells while preserving healthy skin.

To reduce the risk of developing basal cell carcinoma and other types of skin cancer, it is important to protect your skin from excessive sun exposure. Regularly applying sunscreen with a high SPF, wearing protective clothing, and seeking shade during peak sun hours all contribute to minimizing your risk.

Diagnosing Basal Cell Carcinoma in St. Louis

Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer. Early detection plays a crucial role in successful treatment outcomes.

Biopsy for Definitive Diagnosis

A biopsy is necessary for a definitive diagnosis. During this procedure, a small sample of the suspicious lesion is removed and sent to a laboratory for evaluation. Dermatologists typically perform different types of biopsies based on the characteristics of the lesion, such as shave biopsy, punch biopsy, or excisional biopsy. The results from the biopsy provide important information about the presence and severity of basal cell carcinoma.

Dermoscopy Examination by Dermatologists

Dermoscopy is a non-invasive technique that dermatologists use to examine suspicious skin lesions more closely. It involves using a handheld device called a dermoscope, which provides magnified views of the skin surface. This examination allows dermatologists to assess specific features of the lesion that may indicate basal cell carcinoma. Dermoscopy aids in distinguishing between benign and malignant lesions, helping dermatologists make accurate diagnoses.

Imaging Studies for Deeper Tumors

In some cases where basal cell carcinomas are deeper or larger in size, imaging studies may be utilized to evaluate their extent. Ultrasound is commonly employed as an imaging modality for assessing these tumors' depth and involvement with underlying structures. This technique helps determine appropriate treatment plans by providing detailed information about tumor characteristics.

Regular Full-Body Skin Exams for Early Detection

Early detection is key. Medical societies recommend regular full-body skin exams performed by a dermatologist as part of routine care. During these exams, doctors carefully examine all areas of the body for any suspicious lesions or changes in existing moles or growths. Early detection through these exams can lead to prompt diagnosis and timely intervention, improving treatment outcomes.

Effective Options for Basal Cell Carcinoma

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common type of skin cancer, often caused by prolonged exposure to harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun or tanning beds. There are several options available depending on the size, location, and severity of the tumor.

Electrodesiccation and Curettage

Curettage and electrodesiccation is a simple outpatient procedure commonly used for superficial basal cell carcinomas. This technique involves scraping off the tumor using a curette, which is a spoon-shaped instrument, followed by cauterization of the area with an electric needle or electrodesiccation. The process effectively removes cancerous cells while sealing off blood vessels to minimize bleeding.

Surgical Excision

Surgical excision is a commonly used treatment option for basal cell carcinoma. This procedure involves removing the tumor and a small margin of healthy tissue surrounding it to ensure complete removal. It is especially effective for larger or aggressive BCCs that have infiltrated deep into the skin layers. By excising the tumor, surgeons aim to eliminate any remaining cancer cells and reduce the risk of recurrence.

Mohs Surgery: High Cure Rates with Tissue Preservation

Mohs surgery is another surgical technique often employed in treating basal cell carcinoma. This procedure offers high cure rates while preserving as much healthy tissue as possible. During Mohs surgery, thin layers of cancerous tissue are progressively removed and examined under a microscope until no more cancer cells are detected. This meticulous approach minimizes damage to surrounding healthy tissues and ensures that all cancerous cells are eradicated.

Cryotherapy: Freezing Off Superficial BCCs

For superficial basal cell carcinomas or those located in easily accessible areas, cryotherapy can be an effective treatment option. Liquid nitrogen is used to freeze off the abnormal growth, causing it to blister and eventually fall off. Cryotherapy is a relatively quick and straightforward procedure that requires minimal downtime compared to surgical options.

Topical Medications: Stimulating Immune Response

In certain cases where surgical intervention may not be suitable or necessary, topical medications can be utilized as an alternative treatment method for basal cell carcinoma. One such medication is imiquimod, which stimulates the body's immune response to target and destroy cancer cells. Imiquimod is applied directly to the affected area, and over time, it encourages the immune system to recognize and eliminate abnormal cells.

Importance of Early Detection and Prevention of Basal Cell Carcinoma

Early detection is crucial. Detecting this common form of skin cancer in its early stages significantly increases the chances of successful treatment and improves the overall prognosis for individuals diagnosed with it.

Regular self-exams play a vital role in identifying suspicious skin changes early on. By examining your skin regularly, you can become familiar with your body and notice any new or unusual growths that may appear. Pay close attention to any changes in size, shape, color, or texture of moles or other blemishes. If you notice anything concerning, it is important to seek medical care promptly.

In addition to self-exams, taking preventive measures against sun exposure is essential for reducing the risk of developing basal cell carcinoma. Protecting your skin from harmful UV rays can help prevent the development of this type of cancer. Wearing sunscreen with a high SPF rating, protective clothing such as hats and long sleeves, and seeking shade whenever possible are all effective ways to minimize UV exposure.

The incidence of basal cell carcinoma has been on the rise in recent years. Therefore, taking proactive steps toward prevention becomes even more critical. By adopting a proactive approach towards prevention and early detection, individuals can help reduce their risk of developing basal cell carcinoma. Regular self-exams combined with sun protection measures provide an effective defense against this type of cancer.

Moreover, seeking professional medical advice should be prioritized if any suspicious symptoms arise or if there is a family history of basal cell carcinoma. Our dermatologists located at Missouri Baptist Medical Center are specialized in diagnosing and managing basal cell carcinoma effectively. They have extensive knowledge about different treatment options available depending on the stage and severity of the disease.

Conclusion: Understanding Basal Cell Carcinoma

Now that you have a comprehensive understanding of basal cell carcinoma, you are equipped with the knowledge to identify its causes, symptoms, and treatment options. Remember, early detection is crucial in effectively managing this type of skin cancer. If you notice any suspicious changes on your skin or experience persistent symptoms, don't hesitate to consult our St. Louis dermatologists.

Take charge of your health by practicing sun safety measures such as wearing sunscreen, and protective clothing, and avoiding excessive sun exposure. Regular self-examinations and routine check-ups with a dermatologist are essential for early detection and prevention. By adopting these habits and staying informed about basal cell carcinoma, you can prioritize your well-being and minimize the risks associated with this condition.


Can basal cell carcinoma spread to other parts of the body?

Basal cell carcinoma rarely spreads to other parts of the body. It tends to grow slowly and usually remains localized in the area where it first appears.

Are there any long-term effects after treating basal cell carcinoma?

In most cases, once basal cell carcinoma is successfully treated, there are no long-term effects. However, it's important to continue regular check-ups with your dermatologist to monitor for any potential recurrence or new skin abnormalities.

Is basal cell carcinoma only caused by sun exposure?

While prolonged sun exposure is a significant risk factor for developing basal cell carcinoma, other factors such as genetics and environmental factors may also contribute to its development.

Can I prevent basal cell carcinoma completely?

While it may not be possible to prevent basal cell carcinoma entirely, you can significantly reduce your risk by practicing sun-safe behaviors like using sunscreen regularly, seeking shade when the sun is strongest, and wearing protective clothing.

How common is basal cell carcinoma?

Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer worldwide. It accounts for approximately 80% of all diagnosed cases of skin cancer.

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