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What's That Spot? A Photo Guide to Skin Cancer

Is it a benign mole or something more? Check out our illustrated guide to basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma.
basal cell carcinoma Basal Cell Carcinoma

Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer. Around 800,000 cases are diagnosed each year, and while it's easy to cure when caught early, 5 to 10 percent of cases are resistant to treatment.

Basal cell carcinoma affects the deepest layer of the epidermis. Instead of metastasizing like melanoma, basal cell carcinoma attacks the surrounding tissue, making it less deadly, but heightening the chance for disfigurement.

Where you'll find it:
On the face, scalp, ears, neck, and other sun-exposed areas.

What to look for:

  • Pearly sheen. "We always look for a pearly, translucent sheen," says Dr. Madfes. In early stages the cancer can be a pink or translucent bump, pearly around the edges. If you look closely, you should be able to see a cluster of individual blood vessels in the center.
  • Depression or laceration. Look for slight indention and raised edges.
  • A sore that doesn't heal. Basal cell carcinoma can also look like a scar or wound. Watch for any skin defect that persists.
  • A pimple that won't go away. Don't ignore it. "Pimples don't last long and shouldn't be around for more than a couple of weeks," say Dr. Madfes. Basal cell carcinoma can also heal and return several times in the same spot.
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