Virginia Commonwealth University

VCU Massey Cancer Center

What is basal cell carcinoma?

Basal cell cancer, sometimes called nonmelanoma skin cancer, usually appears as a small, fleshy bump or nodule on the head, neck or hands. Occasionally, these nodules appear on the trunk of the body, usually as flat growths. Basal cell carcinoma accounts for more than 90 percent of all skin cancers in the U.S. It is often easily detected and has an excellent record for successful treatment.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, the cure rate for basal cell carcinoma is 95 percent when properly treated. Although this type of cancer rarely spreads to other parts of the body, it can extend below the skin to the bone and cause considerable local damage. And, nonmelanoma skin cancer places people at high risk for developing additional skin cancers.

Who is at risk for basal cell carcinoma?

Basal cell carcinoma is the most common skin cancer found in Caucasians. It seldom occurs in dark-skinned persons. People who have this cancer frequently have light hair, eyes and complexions, and they do not tan easily.

How does basal cell carcinoma develop?

This highly treatable cancer starts in the basal cell layer of the epidermis (the top layer of skin) and grows very slowly. A basal cell carcinoma usually appears as a small, shiny bump or nodule on the skin, and mainly on the areas exposed to the sun, such as the head, neck, arms, hands and face.