What Happens If A Basal Cell Carcinoma Is Not Treated?
“A basal cell carcinoma is one of the more common forms of skin cancers and, fortunately, one of the most treatable,” says Dr. Adam Mamelak, board certified dermatologist and skin cancer specialist in Austin, Texas.
Basal cell carcinoma is most commonly caused by exposure of the skin to ultraviolet light, either from the sun or a tanning bed. Gradually, the effects of exposure damage the DNA, resulting in the development of cancer. The process can take anywhere from weeks to months to several years before it becomes noticeable.
Basal cell carcinomas can look different. They can appear as tiny, pearl shaped bumps. They can also manifest as shiny red or pink patches that feel slightly scaly. They are fragile and can bleed easily. Some appear to be dark against the surrounding skin, while others will break down and create a sore or ulcer on the skin.
If Dr. Mamelak suspects his patients have a basal cell carcinoma, he often does a biopsy on the growth to see if cancer cells are present. Dr. Mamelak also asks his patients a number of questions about their potential risk factors, including how often they are out in the sun, whether or not they use a tanning bed, and what kind of sunblock they use, if any.
“Nowadays, there are a variety of treatments available for this disease,” says Dr. Mamelak.”We have everything from topical creams, pills, destructive and radiation therapies, not to mention minimally invasive Mohs surgery.” With so many treatment options available, these malignant growths on the skin rarely become a problem or impair one’s health.
What happens if a basal cell carcinoma is not treated?
Although a basal cell carcinoma rarely spreads, it is possible if it is left untreated. “Cases of metastatic basal cell carcinoma are rare and are most often reported if the tumor has been present for a number of years,” says Dr. Mamelak.
In actuality, destruction of surrounding skin and tissues is much more common with basal cell carcinoma. “The cancer develops roots that can project and invade into local structures,” explains Dr. Mamelak. In this way, the cancer can spread to the muscle and bone, causing further damage that has to be dealt with. If an open sore or ulcer develops, patients can also be at risk for infections and other complications. Since dealing with a basal cell carcinoma is a relatively easy procedure, that leaves a minimal of scaring, it is recommended that it be dealt with immediately upon diagnosis.
“Unfortunately, we do see cases of neglect from time to time, where patients have ignored their cancers,” says Dr. Mamelak. “I encourage patients to come in early, when they first see a change on their skin. It’s really not necessary to let a small problem become a big one.”
Dr. Adam Mamelak is a fellowship-trained Mohs surgeon and treats patients with basal cell carcinoma and other forms of skin cancer at Sanova Dermatology and the Austin Mohs Surgery Center. For more information about skin cancer and treatment options, please contact us.