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Basal cell carcinoma is the most common skin cancer, but it can easily be missed or mistaken for another skin problem.

Dr. Melissa Piliang, MD, chair of the Dermatology Department at the Cleveland Clinic, said doctors often find the cancer during a routine skin exam. “A patient may not even notice the symptoms,” she said.

as if Facebook post This week, health and fitness personality Richard Simmons announced that he has been treated for basal cell carcinoma. He said he first noticed a “strange-looking lump” under his eye, which he tried to treat with Neosporin. Mr. Simmons was diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma after seeing a dermatologist.

Although it can be difficult for patients to identify, basal cell carcinoma – which is thought to affect Many million people Every year in the United States – it is very treatable. Here’s what you need to know about causes, prevention and treatment.

People often develop basal cell carcinoma after exposure to ultraviolet radiation from sunlight, tanning beds, or sunlamps. Dr. Karen Connolly, a dermatologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, says the disease is the result of cumulative, chronic exposure. Research suggests It is more common in adults over the age of 40.

The disease occurs in the basal cells in the outer layer of the skin. Another type of skin cancer can develop in the squamous cells that lie on top of them.

Basal cell carcinoma is a more common and deadlier type of skin cancer than melanoma, which develops in skin cells called melanocytes. Melanoma is especially dangerous because it can grow quickly and spread to other parts of the body if left untreated. Melanomas typically look darker or browner than basal cell carcinomas, Dr. Connolly said, but patients should bring any lesions they’re concerned about to a dermatologist.

According to Dr. Paras Vakharia, assistant professor of dermatology at Northwestern Medicine, basal cell carcinomas are most common on sun-exposed parts of the body, especially the head, face, neck and arms. Most often, the lesions are “rose and pearl”. “They look a little shiny,” he said. Sometimes they can be brown, blue or gray. The wounds can bleed easily, including when people wash their faces, said Dr Piliang.

“When I teach patients, I tell them to look for acne,” she adds.

People sometimes recognize basal cell carcinoma as acne scars, simple skin lesions, moles, warts, or freckles. According to the American Academy of Dermatology.

Basal cell carcinoma develops slowly, but it is important to get rid of the disease as soon as possible, doctors said.

Doctors use different methods to treat the disease. It is known as one Mohs surgery, doctors remove thin layers of skin one by one to remove cancer. In other cases, doctors may perform a procedure called electrodessication and curettage — or, as Dr. Connolly says, “burning and scraping off” the skin growth. If the carcinoma is very small, it can be treated with chemotherapy cream, said Dr. Vacaria.

Basal cell carcinomas are rarely fatal. Dr Connolly says patients sometimes think ‘I’m going to die from this’ when they hear the word ‘cancer’.

However, Dr. Vakharia said that a diagnosis of basal cell carcinoma should be a clear signal to patients, and that they should “be more careful with sun exposure.” He encouraged people to wear hats that fully protect the face from UV rays and to use sunscreen with at least SPF 30 protection. Reapply sunscreen if you’re outdoors for long periods of time, he adds.

Dr. Connolly said, “Using a folding bed is not a big deal.” A growing body of evidence links indoor tanning to an increased risk of melanoma, she said.

If you’ve had a lot of sun exposure in your life, have severe sunburns, and have acne or a family history of skin cancer, you may want to see a dermatologist for a baseline skin exam, Dr. Vaccaria adds. .

And in general, people should take the time to check their skin every month, says Dr. Connolly, “to make sure there’s nothing new that’s changing rapidly.”