Basal cell carcinoma

Last updated: May 8, 2023

Summarytoggle arrow icon

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is a malignant neoplasm and the most common type of skin cancer. BCC primarily affects individuals with light skin. Although excessive sun exposure is the primary risk factor, chemicals (e.g., arsenic) and genetic factors also increase the risk of developing BCC. Slow-growing nodules (classic "pearly" appearance) that tend to ulcerate during the course of disease are the characteristic lesions associated with BCC. Surgical excision is the treatment of choice. Because BCC does not metastasize, the prognosis is usually excellent.

Epidemiologytoggle arrow icon


Epidemiological data refers to the US, unless otherwise specified.

Etiologytoggle arrow icon


Clinical featurestoggle arrow icon

Most basal cell carcinomas occur on areas of sun-exposed skin.

To remember the usual site of occurrence of basal cell carcinoma, think of: “Basal cell carcinoma is more common aBove the upper lip.”


Subtypes and variantstoggle arrow icon

There are several types of basal cell carcinoma:

  • Nodular basal cell carcinoma
    • Most common type of BCC
    • Lesions: pearly nodules with a rolled border and central depression
    • Most common site: face (esp. the nose)
  • Superficial basal cell carcinoma
    • Lesions: flat, eczematous (scaly) plaque with a pearly border
    • Most common site: trunk


Diagnosticstoggle arrow icon

Basal cell carcinoma lesions are usually readily identifiable, but the diagnosis should always be histologically confirmed (via full-thickness biopsy done at the edge of the lesion).


Pathologytoggle arrow icon


Differential diagnosestoggle arrow icon


Other differential diagnoses


The differential diagnoses listed here are not exhaustive.

Treatmenttoggle arrow icon


Prognosistoggle arrow icon

  • Excellent prognosis with surgical excision because of the low rate of metastasis

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Referencestoggle arrow icon

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