Diagnosed With Basal Cell Carcinoma? Is Removal Worth It?

If you've recently visited your dermatologist with concerns about a pimple, scaly spot, or other blemish that doesn't seem to be going away, you may be shocked to receive a diagnosis of basal cell carcinoma -- one of the most common types of skin cancer. While the thought of skin cancer can be frightening, basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is generally a very slow-growing cancer that doesn't pose nearly as much risk as melanoma or other more aggressive cancers. In fact, depending upon the size, location, and growth rate of your BCC, your doctor may even recommend against its removal. Read on to learn more about having basal cell carcinomas removed, as well as some situations in which a "watchful waiting" approach may be the better option.

Do BCCs need to be removed?

After most cancer diagnoses, the patient will undergo surgery to remove the tumor (or tumors) if possible, then a course of chemotherapy or radiation treatment to fully kill any remaining cancer cells. Failure to do this can cause the cancer to spread to other organs or to your lymph nodes, where it may spread throughout your body and form additional tumors.

However, basal cell carcinoma can be a bit different from other types of cancers due to its slow growth rate and low likelihood of metastasis. Because this cancer is confined to the top few layers of skin, it's less likely to enter your bloodstream or lymph nodes where it can be more easily spread; and because this cancer grows at such a slow rate, it's unlikely that it will spread deeply enough into your skin tissue to cause disfigurement or scarring.

Although your doctor will evaluate your BCC and make a recommendation based on the size and location of your BCC and your overall health, removal isn't always required (or even the best option in some cases).

When should you avoid removal of a BCC?

Sometimes, removing a BCC could actually cause more problems than leaving it alone and keeping a watchful eye for any sudden changes. BCCs may often appear small but have deep "roots" beneath the surface of your skin. If your BCC is located in a visible area, especially on your face or neck, removal could lead to scarring or even disfigurement as the excised area essentially collapses. You may require plastic surgery or skin or fat grafts to restore your pre-surgery appearance -- and these procedures often come with a higher risk of negative side effects than the skin cancer itself. 

For more information, contact a skin cancer surgery center, like Countryside Dermatology & Laser Center.