Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer in the US, which usually appears in the form of red patches, open sores, slightly transparent bumps, pink growths, or scars. The condition starts in the basal cells within the skin, which are responsible for producing new skin cells when the old skin cells die. Most basal cell carcinomas are caused due to prolonged exposure to ultraviolet radiation, especially if the person has very sensitive skin.


Basal cell carcinoma typically develops on those areas of the body that are usually exposed to the sun, such as on the head and neck. In some rare cases, skin cancer is also seen to develop on the legs, groin area, and breasts. Initially, basal cell carcinoma appears to be a minor change in the skin color and texture, such as a small growth or sore that does not heal.

Generally, these lesions would be pearly white, pink, or skin-colored, and translucent. Patients can even see a bit through the bumps or sores, with some tiny blood vessels appearing on them. Such lesions are often seen to develop on the ears, face, or neck region. Sometimes, these bumps or sores might rupture and bleed as well, while they might scab over in most cases.

In some cases, the lesions appear to be brownish, bluish, or black in color, with a slightly raised border that is translucent. If the skin cancer develops on the chest or back, it will appear as flat, scaly patches with a raised border. These would be slightly reddish in color and can grow quite large within a few weeks.

Basal cell carcinoma can also develop as white, waxy lesions, which do not have a clear border. These are known as morphea form basal cell carcinoma and are very rare in the US. However, cancer can develop into a very dangerous and disfiguring condition. That is why it is important to consult with a doctor at the nearest community healthcare center as soon as you see any new growth or a recurring sore on the skin.


Skin cancer is found to be associated with a mutation in the DNA of the skin cells. Basal cells are located at the base of the epidermis, which normally works to produce new skin cells and replace the old ones with them. This process is controlled by the DNA of basal cells. When a mutation in the DNA happens, basal cells start to multiply and continue growing rapidly until they die. These abnormal cells accumulate under the skin and eventually form a cancerous tumor that is visible on the skin.

Experts believe that the mutation in the DNA of basal cells happens due to long-term exposure to ultraviolet radiation. This can be because of continuous exposure to sunlight or commercial tanning lamps/beds. However, there is not much evidence to prove this, because basal cell carcinoma can also develop in areas that are not exposed to sun normally, such as the pelvic region or breasts. In any case, the condition is seen to occur commonly in people who have fair and sensitive skin.

The risk of basal cell carcinoma can also go up if the person has undergone radiation therapy to treat acne, psoriasis, or any other skin condition. Usually, the cancer cells develop at the previous treatment sites in such cases. Besides, a family history of the condition can also increase the risk of developing skin cancer.

Risk Factors

Immune-suppressing drugs are often seen to increase the risk of developing basal cell carcinoma. This is especially true in the case of people who take medication to suppress their immune system after transplant surgery. In severe cases, skin cancer can grow to other parts of the body as well because of low immunity power.

Exposure to arsenic can also intensify the risk of skin cancer. Arsenic is a poisonous metal, which is found largely in the environment, such as in the soil, groundwater, or air. Although everyone experiences some degree of arsenic exposure, being regularly exposed to arsenic content, such as when farming or working in a refinery, can be more dangerous. Apart from that, drinking contaminated water can also increase arsenic contact, leading to a greater risk of developing basal cell carcinoma.

Sometimes, inherited genetic diseases can also cause skin cancer. For instance, people with Gorlin-Goltz syndrome are seen to experience frequent basal cell carcinomas, along with other conditions that are related to the bones, nervous system, endocrine glands, and eyes. Similarly, people with xeroderma pigmentosum would have an extreme sensitivity to ultraviolet radiation from the sun, which increases the risk of basal cell carcinoma. In fact, xeroderma pigmentosum patients have little to no ability to deal with any skin condition.

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    About the Author

    Dr. Ghassan M. Al-Jazayrly, MD

    A graduate of University of Aleppo Faculty of Medicine, Dr. Al-Jazayrly or, as he is colloquially known: Dr. AJ, is an oncologist and hematologist of a Complete Care Community Health Center (CCCHC) with more than 36 years of experience. In recent years, he’s been involved with a non profit organization known as Every Woman Counts (EWC) which provides free breast and cervical cancer screening and diagnostic services to California’s underserved populations in order to eliminate health disparities for low-income individuals.

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