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Basal Cell Carcinoma

Discover the lesser-known truths about Basal Cell Carcinoma and its impact on your skin health, providing insights and prevention tips you can't afford to miss.

USMLE Guide: basal cell Carcinoma


Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC) is the most common type of skin cancer, accounting for approximately 80% of all cases. It predominantly affects individuals with fair skin, and its incidence is increasing worldwide. Understanding the key features, diagnosis, and management of BCC is crucial for medical professionals. This guide aims to provide an overview of BCC for the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE).

Anatomy and Pathophysiology

BCC arises from the basal cells of the epidermis, which are responsible for regeneration and repair of the skin. Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation is the primary risk factor for BCC development. Chronic sun exposure, tanning beds, and genetic predisposition contribute to the pathogenesis. BCC commonly occurs on sun-exposed areas such as the face, scalp, ears, neck, and upper trunk.

Clinical Presentation

BCC typically presents as a slowly growing, painless, and non-healing skin lesion. The classic appearance is a pearly, translucent papule or nodule with telangiectasias (dilated blood vessels). Other presentations include:

  • Ulceration: Central erosion or ulceration with rolled borders
  • Pigmented: Dark brown, blue-black, or melanoma-like appearance
  • Superficial: Red, scaly, and well-demarcated patches


Diagnosis of BCC is based on clinical presentation and confirmed by biopsy. Dermoscopy, a non-invasive technique using a handheld device, aids in distinguishing BCC from other skin lesions. Histopathological examination reveals characteristic features, including:

  • Nests or islands of basaloid cells in the dermis
  • Palisading of tumor cells around the periphery
  • Clefting between tumor nests and stroma (retraction artifact)


The primary goal of BCC management is complete tumor removal while preserving normal tissue. Treatment options depend on the tumor size, location, histology, and patient factors. Common approaches include:

  1. Surgical Excision: Preferred for most cases, especially when tumor size permits.
  2. Mohs Micrographic Surgery: Ideal for high-risk areas (e.g., face) or recurrent tumors, as it maximizes tissue preservation.
  3. Curettage and Electrodessication: Suitable for low-risk, superficial BCCs with well-defined borders.
  4. Topical Therapies: Limited to superficial BCCs in specific situations (e.g., small lesions, patients unable to undergo surgery).
  5. Radiation Therapy: Reserved for patients who cannot undergo surgery or have unresectable tumors.
  6. Systemic Therapy: Rarely used for advanced or metastatic BCC (e.g., advanced Hedgehog pathway inhibitors).


BCC has a generally favorable prognosis, with a low metastatic potential. However, if left untreated, local invasion can lead to extensive tissue destruction. Recurrence rates vary based on the treatment modality used and tumor characteristics. Regular follow-up and sun protection measures are essential for early detection and prevention of further skin cancers.


Basal Cell Carcinoma is a prevalent skin cancer with important clinical implications. Understanding its pathophysiology, clinical presentation, diagnosis, and management is crucial for physicians. This USMLE guide provides a comprehensive overview of BCC, enabling medical professionals to approach this condition confidently in their practice.

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