While not as dangerous as melanoma, basal cell cancers—the most common form of skin cancer—can be disfiguring if not properly treated. NewYork-Presbyterian's skin cancer experts carefully consider your appearance and preferences when treating basal cell cancer, removing or destroying cancerous tissue with as little scarring as possible. Your doctor will discuss your options and work with you to choose the therapy that best meets your needs.
Skin Screening to Find Cancers Early
New York-Presbyterian dermatologists are experts in skin screening for all types of skin malignancies including skin cancer screening and evaluating moles. Suspicious lesions are biopsied for further histologic evaluation. Early diagnosis is important for prognosis and treating early to minimize the extent of surgery and potential complications.
A Team of Specialists
You have access to a team of dermatologists, Mohs surgeons, dermatopathologists (doctors with advanced training in the skin histology), medical oncologists, surgical oncologists, radiation oncologists and others with experience caring for people with squamous cell carcinoma. Your team will customize a plan of care tailored to your medical needs and personal preferences.
Surgery for Basal Cell Carcinoma
Our dermatologic surgeons remove as little tissue as possible when treating your skin cancer, with the goal of preserving your appearance and minimizing scarring.
- Mohs surgery. Tumors in delicate areas like the face might require Mohs surgery, a technique performed by our highly trained doctors. During Mohs surgery, the tumor is removed layer by layer and microscopically examined each time during the procedure to ensure elimination of cancer while preserving as much healthy skin as possible.
- Curettage. Small superficial basal cell cancers can be scraped off using a curette (which has a sharp, ring-shaped tip), using local anesthesia. Your doctor then "dessicates" the tumor site with an electrocautery needle. This technique is best reserved for parts of the body where you wouldn't mind having a scar since it typically leaves a depressed whitish scar at the tumor site.
- Skin cancer excision. Basal cell carcinomas can be excised by a surgical excision right in the doctor’s office using local anesthesia. Each surgery is tailored specifically to each patient, depending on the site of the skin cancer, specific physical demands of the patient and personal preferences.
For some people with small, superficial basal cell carcinomas or those who cannot have surgery, we provide a variety of nonsurgical treatments.
- Topical creams. Some basal cell cancers are treated with creams that you put on the lesion, such as imiquimod (which stimulates your immune system to fight cancer) and 5-fluorouracil (a type of chemotherapy in a form to be used on the skin). You would use the cream daily for several weeks.
- Cryosurgery. Your doctor may use cryosurgery—freezing the cancer cells with liquid nitrogen—to treat basal cell cancer.
- Photodynamic therapy. This approach is useful for treating some superficial basal cell cancers. We apply a cream containing a chemical that is activated by an intense blue ultraviolet light. When we direct the light at cancer, the chemical selectively destroys basal cell cancer cells while causing minimal damage to nearby healthy skin tissue.
- Radiation therapy. We use radiation to treat some large or oddly situated basal cell cancers. We also use it after surgery in some people to kill any remaining cancer cells. NewYork-Presbyterian's radiation treatment centers are state-of-the-art facilities featuring the latest highly focused radiation technologies.
- Oral medication for advanced basal cell cancers. Newer oral medicines (such as vismodegib and sonidegib) have been developed for people with large or aggressive basal cell tumors that may be difficult to remove surgically, as well as tumors that have metastasized—a rare event that needs special treatment. These drugs work by interfering with the molecular pathways driving basal cell cancer growth.