Overview of Basal Cell Carcinoma

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common type of skin cancer in the United States. It accounts for approximately 75 percent of non-melanoma skin cancers. This type of skin cancer originates in basal cells, which are located in the bottom layer of the epidermis.

Incidence of basal cell cancer increases with age. BCC may spread to nearby tissue, but usually does not metastasize (spread) to distant sites. The prognosis is good, in most cases, and follow-up examinations are important because recurrences may occur.

Basal Cell Carcinoma Risk Factors and Causes

Exposure to ultraviolet radiation (e.g., sunlight, tanning beds) is the main risk factor for developing BCC. While it occurs more often in older adults, it is becoming more common in younger people, even people in their 20s and 30s. Fair-skinned people have a much greater risk for BCC. Radiation treatments, as well as immune suppression, also increase the risk.

Inherited disorders that manifest a greater sensitivity to ultraviolet radiation also increase the risk for BCC. For example, nevoid basal cell carcinoma syndrome (also called the basal cell nevus syndrome) causes multiple tumors to develop at a young age.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 14 Aug 1999

Last Modified: 24 Aug 2015