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Treating Skin Cancer on the Face

April 24, 2016

Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer, and it frequently occurs on the nose. It’s natural to feel worried when your doctor tells you that you have it, but keep in mind that it’s the least risky type of skin cancer. As long as you catch it early, you can be cured.

This cancer is unlikely to spread from your skin to other parts of your body, but it can move nearby into bone or other tissue under your skin. Several treatments can keep that from happening and get rid of the cancer.

The tumors start off as small, shiny bumps, usually on your nose or other parts of your face. But you can get them on any part of your body, including your trunk, legs and arms. If you have fair skin, you’re more likely to get this skin cancer.

Basal cell carcinoma usually grows very slowly and often doesn’t show up for many years after intense or long-term exposure to the sun. You can get it at a younger age if you’re exposed to a lot of sun or use tanning beds.

Ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun or from tanning beds are the main cause of basal cell carcinoma.

When UV rays hit your skin, over time they can damage the DNA in your skin cells. The DNA holds the code for the way these cells grow. Over time, damage to the DNA can cause cancer to form. The process takes many years.

Symptoms

Basal cell carcinoma can look different. You may notice a skin growth in a dome shape that has blood vessels in it. It can be pink, brown or black.

At first, a basal cell carcinoma comes up like a small “pearly” bump that looks like a flesh-colored mole or a pimple that doesn’t go away. Sometimes these growths can look dark. Or you may also see shiny pink or red patches that are slightly scaly.

Another symptom to watch for is a waxy, hard skin growth. Basal cell carcinomas are also fragile and can bleed easily. 

Treatments

Excision
This is a surgical procedure that your dermatologist often can perform during an office visit. It involves numbing the area to be treated and cutting out any remaining tumor along with some normal-looking skin around the tumor. Like the skin biopsy, this removed skin is examined under the microscope. This may be done at a laboratory or by your dermatologist. The doctor who looks at the removed skin needs to see whether the normal-looking skin is free of cancer cells. If not, more skin will need to be removed. This is a common way to treat BCC.

Curettage and Electrodessication
This treatment consists of two steps. First, your dermatologist scrapes away the tumor. Then electricity is used to destroy any remaining cancer cells. The two steps are then repeated.

Mohs Surgery
Mohs offers the highest cure rate for difficult-to-treat basal cell cancers. Your dermatologist will tell you if Mohs is right for you. If Mohs is recommended, this is what you can expect. The surgeon will cut out the tumor plus a very small amount of normal-looking skin surrounding the tumor. While the patient waits, the Mohs surgeon uses a microscope to look at what was removed. The surgeon is looking for cancer cells. If necessary, the Mohs surgeon will continue to remove a very small amount of skin and look at it under the microscope. This continues until the surgeon no longer sees cancer cells.

Cryosurgery
This treatment uses liquid nitrogen to freeze cancer cells, causing the cells to die.

Photodynamic Therapy (PDT)
This treatment uses light to remove early skin cancers. PDT is a two-step process. First, a chemical is applied to the skin. The chemical remains on the skin for some time, so it can be absorbed. Then the skin is exposed to a special light to kill the cancer cells.

Medicated Creams
Creams that contain a drug, such as imiquimod or 5-fluorouracil, can be used to treat early BCC. A patient applies the medicated cream at home as directed by his or her dermatologist.

Nearly every basal cell cancer can be cured, especially when the cancer is found early and treated.