President Joe Biden, 80, recently had a form of skin cancer removed from his chest. How dangerous is basal cell carcinoma? We have what you need to know about this highly curable but still serious skin cancer.
The White House doctor, Dr. Kevin O’Connor, said Biden had a slow-growing skin cancer called basal cell carcinoma (BCC). This is the most common type of skin cancer, and over 3 million people are diagnosed with BCC every year.Read More
What Does Basal Cell Carcinoma Look Like?Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is a type of highly curable skin cancer that causes a “lump, bump, or lesion to form on the outside layer of your skin,” where there is a lot of sun exposure, according to the Cleveland Clinic. The lesion can look like a “small, sometimes shiny bump or scaly flat patch on your skin that slowly grows over time.” Because of this, they can often be overlooked as a pimple or skin tag. In patients with darker skin, about half of BCCs are pigmented (meaning brown in color).
The most common type of BCC is a nodular BCC, which looks like “a round pimple with visible blood vessels surrounding it.” Other signs of BCC include:
- A lump that is slightly see-through and close to your normal skin color
- A lump that may be itchy or painful
- A lump that may form an open sore, which can ooze clear fluid or bleed with contact
No matter what, if you have a spot on your skin that seems abnormal or questionable, you should consult your doctor because BCC can look very different from person to person. In addition, you should prioritize routine checkups with your dermatologist and always be on the lookout for any skin changes in between visits.
A doctor may diagnose BCC through a skin biopsy, which is when a piece of the affected skin area is removed to examine under a microscope. They may also use imaging tests if they suspect the cancer has spread to another area of the body, though that is rare for BCC.
While BCC lumps are slow-growing, they are still serious. If left untreated, they can grow in size and begin to invade deeper layers of the skin and tissues, like muscle and bone. Plus, BCC lumps can be painful and become ulcerated (become an open sore), which can cause bleeding and infection.
READ MORE: There is no “Cookie Cutter Recipe” for Treating Stage Four Melanoma
How Is Basal Cell Carcinoma Removed?
There are a few ways BCC may be removed from the body, according to the Cleveland Clinic, and they include:
- Scraping off the cancerous lump and then burning the layer of skin with an electric needle
- Surgically removing the lump with a scalpel (Mohs surgery)
- Freezing the lump
- Chemotherpay (using medicine to kill the cancerous cells)
- Lasy therapy (using high-energy laser beams to remove the cancer)
Biden Had Skin Cancer Removed Before (and So Did His Wife)
This isn’t the first time Biden had skin removed from his body. Biden had skin cancers removed before his presidency — his doctor said he spent a lot of time in the sun as a youth. Those previous skin cancers were non-melanoma, meaning they were not the more dangerous form of skin cancer (melanoma) that is more likely to grow and spread.
Biden’s wife, first lady Jill Biden, also had BCC removed. Just in January, the first lady had three lesions removed from her skin — two of them ended up being BCC.
Two of the lesions were removed using the Mohs surgery, while the other lesion was removed and determined to be noncancerous. Jill doesn’t need any further treatment for her skin cancer.
Reducing Your Risk of Skin Cancer
While regular skin cancer screenings are key to the early detection of concerning lumps, Dr. Dendy Engelman, a board certified dermatologic surgeon at Shafer Clinic Fifth Avenue, told SurvivorNet there are some things you can do in your daily life to help reduce your risk of the cancer
- Avoid sun during peak hours: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
- Wear a wide brimmed hat and sunglasses to protect the tops of our heads, the tops of our ears and the delicate area around the eye.
- Wear at least SPF 30 sunscreen and make sure to reapply every two hours or after excessive sweating or swimming.
- Have yearly skin checks (with a professional) because it’s difficult to evaluate areas all over the body.
- Avoid tanning beds. There are no “good” tanning beds, and they can significantly increase your risk of skin cancer.
- And remember that skin protection is equally important all year round.
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