Lynda had noticed a small lump under her eye that looked like a cyst, and over a period of two years visited her doctor twice who applied liquid nitrogen to try and remove it. The doctor recommended that if that treatment failed she would need to see a plastic surgeon.

The nitrogen didn’t work, and Linda noticed that the lump had changed in appearance and had become larger, making Lynda very self conscious about it. She was also becoming more concerned that it could be cancerous and was referred to see Nick Parkhouse, a consultant plastic surgeon at The McIndoe Centre. He confirmed it was a basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and gave her deep sedation as she didn’t want to be awake while she was being operated on. The lump was removed and she went home the same day. Once the incision healed Linda was relieved that the cancerous lump had been successfully removed and was also delighted there was no visible scarring or signs that she had undergone a surgical procedure.

What is a basal cell carcinoma?

A basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is a type of skin cancer. There are two main types of skin cancer: melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer. BCC is a non-melanoma skin cancer, and is the most common type (greater than 80%) of all skin cancer in the UK. BCCs are sometimes referred to as ‘rodent ulcers’.

What causes basal cell carcinoma?

The commonest cause is exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun or from sunbeds. BCCs can occur anywhere on the body, but are most common on areas that are exposed to the sun such as your face, head, neck and ears. It is also possible for a BCC to develop in a longstanding scar. BCCs are not infectious. BCCs mainly affect fair skinned adults, but other skin types are also at risk. Those with the highest risk of developing a basal cell carcinoma are:

  • People with pale skin who burn easily and rarely tan (generally with light coloured or red hair, although some may have dark hair but still have fair skin).
  • Those that have had a lot of exposure to the sun, such as people with outdoor hobbies or outdoor workers, and people who have lived in sunny climates.
  • People who have used sun beds or have regularly sunbathed.

What does a basal cell carcinoma look like?

BCCs can vary greatly in their appearance, but people often first become aware of them as a scab that bleeds and does not heal completely or a new lump on the skin. Some BCCs are superficial and look like a scaly red flat mark on the skin. Others form a lump and have a pearl-like rim surrounding a central crater and there may be small red blood vessels present across the surface. If left untreated, BCCs can eventually cause an ulcer; hence the name “rodent ulcer”. Most BCCs are painless, although sometimes they can be itchy or bleed if caught.

How can a basal cell carcinoma be treated?

The commonest treatment for BCC is surgery. Usually, this means cutting away the BCC, along with some clear skin around it, using local anaesthetic injection to numb the skin. The skin can usually be closed with a few stitches, but sometimes a skin graft is needed.