Press "Enter" to skip to content

Cracking the Code of Basal Cell Skin Cancer: What You Need to Know

By: Nicole Werpachowski

Over the last month, from fitness icon Richard Simmons to model Christie Brinkley, the words “basal cell carcinoma” and “skin cancer” have transcended recent headlines on various social media outlets [1, 2]. Basal cell carcinoma (BCC), though less discussed than other forms of cancer, has captured the public’s attention, sparking curiosity and concern among many. It has become clear that skin cancer awareness and smart skincare habits are more vital than ever.

Basal Cell Overview

If you’ve received a diagnosis of basal cell carcinoma (BCC), you’re certainly not alone. It is the most common type of skin cancer with millions of individuals being diagnosed yearly. They grow slowly, so most are curable when caught and treated early. BCC commonly appears on the head or neck as a pink or reddish, shiny, raised, round lesion, but it can manifest differently on different people. For example, in patients with darker skin, many BCCs are brown in color. Occasionally, it can be mistaken for a scar, minor skin injury, or non-healing pimple or sore [3]. If you find any of the following changes on your skin or notice a new spot that is growing or bleeding, see a board-certified dermatologist.

What Puts You at Risk?

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) doesn’t play favorites – it can affect anyone! While this type of skin cancer does not discriminate, there are a few factors that can increase the likelihood of developing it. The most common reason is ultraviolet (UV) damaged skin from the sun and/or indoor tanning (e.g., tanning beds, sunlamps). Several studies have investigated other common risk factors including lighter skin tone, history of sunburns, living in areas that get intense sunlight year-round, certain outdoor occupations (e.g., farmer, military, pilot, etc.), history of skin cancer, and weakened immune system [4]. It is worth noting that some people who develop BCC did not necessarily fit into any of these categories.

How to Protect Ourselves from Skin Cancer?

Every time you step outside without protecting your skin from the sun’s rays, you’re boosting your chances of developing skin cancer. The American Academy of Dermatology offers guidance on the most important ways to protect your skin [5]:

  • Avoid tanning beds. Choosing safer alternatives like sunless tanning lotions or spray tans can give you that sun-kissed glow without the harmful effects of UV rays on your skin.
  • Find shade when appropriate, especially during peak hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun shines strongest.
  • Apply the appropriate sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher to cover any part of your skin not covered by clothing, including tops of your feet, neck, and ears. Don’t forget that this rule applies to cloudy days!
  • Wear sun-protective clothing, especially with an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) label. These range from lightweight long-sleeved shirts, wide-brim hat without holes, and sunglasses with UV protection.
  • Conduct routine skin exams on your skin head-to-toe. Make sure to visit your local board-certified dermatologist at least once a year for a professional whole body skin exam. Prevention and early detection is key!

How to Choose the Correct Sunscreen?

Selecting the right sunscreen is key to keep your skin safe in the sun, but shopping for sunscreen can be difficult to navigate with the array of options available on shelves. Here are some features you should look for when picking your sunscreen [6]:

  • Pick a sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher every day. Higher-number SPFs provide slightly more protection against the sun, although it’s important to remember that no sunscreen can entirely block out 100% of the sun’s rays.
  • Broad-spectrum means that the sunscreen protects the skin from both UVA/UVB rays, both of which can cause cancer.
  • Water-resistant. Sunscreens are not waterproof or “sweatproof.” It is important to remember to reapply sunscreen every 2 hours, or sooner if you are swimming .
  • Use a physical “mineral” sunscreen (i.e., the active ingredient is titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide) if you have sensitive skin. If your sunscreen doesn’t contain the above ingredients, it is considered a “chemical” sunscreen. Check your sunscreen’s label under “Active Ingredients”!

Take Away

Whether it’s a suspicious spot or a history of sun exposure, being proactive about skin health is key. From regular skin exams with your board-certified dermatologist to daily sun protective measures, prioritizing your skin can help prevent skin cancer and ensure a radiant, healthier future.

References

  1. How to Recognize the Most Common Form of Skin Cancer https://www.nytimes.com/2024/03/20/well/live/basal-cell-carcinoma-skin-cancer.html
  2. Christie Brinkley and skin cancer: Basal cell carcinoma explained
    https://health.ucdavis.edu/news/headlines/christie-brinkley-and-skin-cancer-basal-cell-carcinoma-explained/2024/03
  3. Basal cell carcinoma: Epidemiology; pathophysiology; clinical and histological subtypes; and disease associations
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29782900/
    (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.)
  4. Basal Cell Carcinoma
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK482439/
  5. How to Prevent Skin Cancer
    https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/skin-cancer/prevent/how
  6. Sunscreen FAQs
    https://www.aad.org/media/stats-sunscreen#:~:text=Dermatologists%20recommend%20using%20a%20sunscreen,of%20the%20sun’s%20UVB%20rays