Basal Cell Carcinoma : Skin cancer and the history of tanning

Published: May, 2006

Basal cell carcinoma is the most common skin cancer and the least dangerous—but it's far from a trivial matter, reports the May issue of the Harvard Women's Health Watch. The good news is that basal cell carcinoma rarely spreads (metastasizes), and it can easily be treated and cured when discovered early.

Basal cell skin cancers almost always occur in areas exposed to the sun: 80% show up on the head and neck. The face is particularly vulnerable. The most common form—nodular—usually shows up as a shiny bump and may bleed easily. It often ulcerates and crusts over. Superficial basal cell carcinoma forms a red, scaly, sometimes itchy spot and may have flecks of dark pigment. It's often mistaken for a patch of dermatitis. Morpheaform, a rarer and more aggressive type, has a waxy white or yellow scarlike appearance and poorly defined borders.

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