Treatment of skin cancer (basal cell carcinoma)

Most forms of skin cancer are not fatal, but it is important that it is treated at an early stage. Skin tumors usually develop in places that are frequently exposed to the sun. The most common form of skin cancer is basal cell carcinoma. This forms a tumor that does not spread, but it does require treatment. What does this form of skin cancer mean and what can you do about it?

Skin cancer

Most forms of skin cancer are not fatal, but they can cause unsightly growths. Once these growths start to grow, they can destroy other structures in the skin, such as blood vessels, sweat glands or muscle tissue. Early detection and treatment of such growths is therefore extremely important. One of the most common forms of skin cancer is basal cell carcinoma, which originates in the epidermis.

The sun and skin cancer

It is common knowledge that skin cancer can be caused by too much exposure to UV rays from sunlight. What is less known is that UV rays also penetrate clouds. Skin cancer usually occurs on the parts of the skin that are most exposed to the sun, such as the face, hands and shoulders. People with very fair skin and who burn easily are most at risk.

Besal cell carcinoma

The most common form of skin cancer is basal cell carcinoma. The tumor does not spread further into the body, but it does slowly destroy the tissue. Because it does not spread, the outlook for a patient with this diagnosis is good. If basal cell carcinoma is not treated, it can be very disfiguring. That is why early treatment is important. This form of skin cancer usually occurs in people over the age of 50. People who are frequently exposed to the sun are more likely to develop this disease at a younger age.

How it is discovered

Basal cell carcinoma is usually discovered when a wound or ulcer develops that does not go away after a long time or starts to bleed spontaneously. The wound can be flesh-colored, pink, brown or red. This spot may start as a red spot or as a flat scar that is lighter than the surrounding skin.


How basal cell carcinoma is treated depends on the nature of the tumor, where it is located and its size. The patient’s health also plays a major role. Treatment can take place in the following ways:

Curettage and cautery

This involves surgically removing the tumor by scraping away the surrounding tissue and burning away the base, which stops any bleeding and destroys any remaining cancer cells. The chance of success is high and the result is very satisfactory, also from a cosmetic point of view.


This is a treatment with liquid nitrogen. The basal cell carcinoma is frozen, causing the cells to damage and die. Many patients benefit from this, especially if the tumor is on the back. A disadvantage of frostbite is the formation of a large wound that must heal in a few weeks to a few months.

Laser ablation

If the patient has basal cell carcinoma in multiple places, such as on the trunk and back, a carbon dioxide laser can be an effective and faster treatment method. This involves removing the affected tissue and minimizing bleeding. Little data is known about its long-term effectiveness.

Excision of the tumor

The tumor is removed by cutting it out, after which the wound is sutured. If the wound becomes very large, a skin graft may be required or a local skin flap may be used.


Many dermatological clinics now have dermatologists, radiologists and surgeons at their disposal who can together determine the best treatment for the patient. It can be difficult for some patients to have to come to the clinic regularly for radiation treatment. Another disadvantage is that the scar formation seems quite acceptable at first. Years later, the formation of scar tissue turns out to be greater than expected. There are also often many broken blood vessels visible.

Topical treatment

Creams containing 5-flurouracil can be a good treatment for basal cell carcinoma, especially if it is located on the lower legs. Surgery or radiation is not recommended in these cases because they are difficult to heal.

Photodynamic therapy

Many centers have reported some good results with this treatment method. A combination of a cream and light source is used that ensures the destruction of cells in the tumor. The cosmetic results are often excellent. Research has shown that the chance of the cancer returning is comparable to other treatments. No long-term data are yet known.

Mohs surgery

This form of treatment has been used for years now. It was developed in the 1950s by doctor Frederick Moh. It is a technique to remove basal cell carcinomas and similar tumors. The treatment aims to surgically remove the cancer from the body while preserving as much healthy tissue as possible. The tumor is completely excised.

The chance of recurrence

It is estimated that 40% of patients will develop basal cell carcinoma again within five years. Anyone who has had this form of skin cancer must therefore take special care to prevent a second carcinoma. This means not getting too much sunlight, using good sun protection and regularly checking the skin for suspicious spots.

read more

  • Protect the skin in winter
  • The anatomy of the skin
  • The development of cancer cells
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