Basal and squamous cell carcinomas are the most common types of cancer. Both arise from epithelial tissue (see epithelium). They are rare in dark-skinned people; light-skinned, blue-eyed people who do not tan well but who have had significant exposure to the rays of the sun are at highest risk. Both types usually occur on the face or other exposed areas.
Basal cell carcinoma typically is seen as a raised, sometimes ulcerous nodule. The nodule may have a pearly appearance. It grows slowly and rarely metastasizes (spreads), but it can be locally destructive and disfiguring. Squamous cell carcinoma typically is seen as a painless lump that grows into a wartlike lesion, or it may arise in patches of red, scaly sun-damaged skin called actinic keratoses. It can metastasize and can lead to death.
Basal and squamous cell carcinomas are easily cured with appropriate treatment. The lesion is usually removed by scalpal excision, curettage, cryosurgery (freezing), or micrographic surgery in which successive thin slices are removed and examined for cancerous cells under a microscope until the samples are clear. If the cancer arises in an area where surgery would be difficult or disfiguring, radiation therapy may be employed. Genetic scientists have discovered a gene that, when mutated, causes basal cell carcinoma.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.