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Skin cancer types: Basal cell carcinoma overview

Basal cell carcinoma

What is basal cell carcinoma?
The most common type of skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma can show up on the skin in many ways.

Is basal cell carcinoma contagious? No 

Basal cell carcinoma is common

If you’ve been diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma or BCC, you have plenty of company. As the most common type of cancer in the world, doctors diagnose millions of people with BCC every year. In the United States alone, it’s estimated that about 2 million Americans hear, “You have basal cell carcinoma,” each year.1

Most people who develop this skin cancer have fair skin that they seldom protected with sunscreen or sun-protective clothing. Before they developed skin cancer, they often noticed signs of sun damage on their skin, such as age spots, patches of discolored skin, and deep wrinkles.

Dermatologist examining patient for signs of skin cancer

You have a greater risk of developing this skin cancer if you’ve seldom protected your skin from the sun throughout your life or used tanning beds.

Female dermatologist examining male patient's skin with dermascope, carefully looking at a mole for signs of skin cancer

Although BCC is most common in people who have fair skin, people of all colors get this skin cancer.

For most people, BCC is not life-threatening. It tends to grow slowly. It seldom spreads to another part of the body. Even so, treatment is important.

When found early, this skin cancer is highly treatable. An early BCC can often be removed during an appointment with your dermatologist.

Given time to grow, this skin cancer can grow deep, injuring nerves, blood vessels, and anything else in its path. As the cancer cells pile up and form a large tumor, the cancer can reach into the bone beneath. This can change the way you look, and for some people the change may be disfiguring.

Finding and treating this skin cancer early can prevent it from growing deep. To do this, it helps to know the signs and symptoms of BCC.

One common sign is a slowly growing, non-healing spot that sometimes bleeds. BCC can also appear on the skin in other ways.

You’ll find the signs and symptoms along with several pictures of this skin cancer at, Basal cell carcinoma: Signs and symptoms.

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Cameron MC, Lee E, et al. “Basal cell carcinoma: Epidemiology; pathophysiology; clinical and histological subtypes; and disease associations.” J Am Acad Dermatol 2019;80:303-17.

Gloster HM, Neal K. “Skin cancer in skin of color.” J Am Acad Dermatol 2006;55:741-60.

Nouri K, Ballard CJ, et al. “Basal cell carcinoma.” In: Nouri K, et al. Skin Cancer. McGraw Hill Medical, China, 2008: 61-81.