Basal Cell Carcinoma

Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer and is also the most common of all human cancers, with 4 million cases diagnosed each year. Basal cell carcinomas typically grow slowly and can appear anywhere on the body, although most appear on the face and areas of the skin that are exposed to the sun. They vary in size and appearance. Fortunately, basal cell carcinomas rarely spread beyond the skin (metastasize) to other parts of the body. More often these tumors extend locally and destroy the surrounding tissue. Basal cell carcinomas on the face, ears, and scalp can behave more aggressively. Early detection and prompt treatment ensure an optimal outcome for this type of skin cancer.

Signs and Symptoms of Basal Cell Carcinoma

Basal cell carcinomas may appear and grow so slowly that you may not detect them initially. It is important to see your dermatologist when you notice a change in your skin that might indicate basal cell carcinoma, such as:

  • A smooth, pale growth that may have a dent or dimple in the middle
  • A small, pearly or waxy bump
  • A red patch or irritated area
  • A sore that scabs, heals, and regrows
  • A bleeding or oozing sore

Expert Treatment for Basal Cell Carcinoma

ColumbiaDoctors dermatologists offer a full range of treatments for basal cell carcinoma. We perform a careful evaluation to determine the best treatment plan for each patient's unique set of circumstances. Our physicians have expertise with the latest treatments, including Mohs surgery, which is considered one of the most effective forms of treatment for basal cell carcinoma.

Curettage and Electrodesiccation

After administering a local anesthetic, your dermatologist scrapes away layers of cancerous tissue with a knife-like instrument called a currette. An electric needle is then used to control the bleeding and destroy cancerous cells that may remain.


Cyrosurgery is a treatment that involves the application of liquid nitrogen and is particularly effective for superficial basal cell carcinomas, which grow on the top layer of the skin. Liquid nitrogen is applied to the area that freezes the tumor tissue. The frozen area of skin then heals over a period of 7-10 days.

Mohs Surgery

Mohs surgery involves the surgical removal of cancerous tissue in several stages, with tissue examination occurring between each stage.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy destroys cancer cells and shrinks tumors using X-rays. Radiation therapy can be useful for more advanced basal cell carcinomas, or for areas that are anatomically difficult to treat surgically. Radiation can also be used in conjunction with surgery.


Surgical excision is used frequently to remove basal cell carcinomas. After administering as local anesthetic, the tumor and some of the surrounding tissue are removed. The tissue is then sent to a dermatopathologist who can verify that the entire tumor was removed.

Topical and Systemic Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy targets the tumor with chemotherapeutic drugs which are administered either topically (as a cream that is applied to the area) or systemically (oral or intravenous). Topical chemotherapy is usually used for superficial basal cell carcinomas that are particularly responsive to these drugs.

Reconstructive surgery

Sometimes your treatment will leave a wound which can be closed with surgical sutures. When the wound is large, your surgeon may need to perform reconstructive surgery. This involves closing the wound with a skin flap (shifting nearby tissue) or skin graft (taking skin from another area of the body), which helps restore your skin to its original appearance. Reconstructive surgery can often be performed on the same day as your cancer surgery.


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161 Fort Washington Avenue, 12th Floor
New York, NY 10032

ColumbiaDoctors Midtown
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New York, NY 10020