Basal Cell Carcinoma Warning Signs

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / Honayst

How to spot a BCC: five warning signs

Check for BCCs where your skin is most exposed to the sun, especially the face, ears, neck, scalp, chest, shoulders and back, but remember that they can occur anywhere on the body. Frequently, two or more of these warning signs are visible in a BCC tumor.

  1. An open sore that does not heal, and may bleed, ooze or crust. The sore might persist for weeks, or appear to heal and then come back.
  2. A reddish patch or irritated area, on the face, chest, shoulder, arm or leg that may crust, itch, hurt or cause no discomfort.
  3. A shiny bump or nodule that is pearly or clear, pink, red or white. The bump can also be tan, black or brown, especially in dark-skinned people, and can be mistaken for a normal mole.
  4. A small pink growth with a slightly raised, rolled edge and a crusted indentation in the center that may develop tiny surface blood vessels over time.
  5. A scar-like area that is flat white, yellow or waxy in color. The skin appears shiny and taut, often with poorly defined borders. This warning sign may indicate an invasive BCC.

Please note: Since not all BCCs have the same appearance, these images serve as a general reference to what basal cell carcinoma looks like.

BCCs can be tricky

Keep in mind that BCCs can also look different from the descriptions above. In some people, BCCs can resemble noncancerous skin conditions such as psoriasis or eczema. Other times, the condition is diagnosed when a cut from shaving does not heal. In patients with darker skin, about half of BCCs are pigmented (meaning brown in color).

When in doubt, check it out. Follow your instincts and visit your dermatologist if you see anything new, changing or unusual on your skin. A basal cell carcinoma may be pigmented, like this one, on skin of color. Photo courtesy of Andrew Alexis, MD, MPH

What you can do

If you’ve already had a BCC, you have an increased chance of developing another, especially in the same sun-damaged area or nearby. A BCC can recur even when it has been carefully removed the first time, because some cancer cells may remain undetectable after surgery and others can form roots that extend beyond what’s visible. BCCs on the nose, ears and lips are more likely to recur, usually within the first two years after surgery.

Read more on: basal cell carcinoma, basal-cell carcinoma