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What does basal cell carcinoma look like?

 What does a Basal Cell Carcinoma look like?

Basal Cell Carcinoma unfortunately does not always look the same, and they can be difficult to spot and diagnose, even for specialists.

When a basal cell carcinoma first starts, it may only look like a tiny pink blemish. As they grow, BCCs sometimes go through a classic pathway of 'getting worse and better again'. When they flare up, the BCC is easier to see, and may look like a simple skin spot or scar. They may itch, have a scaly surface, and bleed (a classic description is a spot that bleeds when drying yourself with a towel). The 'flaring' phase may last a few weeks, then the BCC goes quiet again and can be very hard to see. The roots, though, are still present and although it looks like it has gone, it has not.

The way a basal cell carcinoma looks as it develops over time (months or even years) often depends on the growth type. There are a number of different types of BCC, but the most common types are described below.....

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Nodular Basal Cell Carcinoma

These are the 'classic' form of basal cell carcinoma, and the type most often described on websites or in textbooks. Nodular basal cell carcinoma often has a red, dome-shaped appearance, and vessels (little veins or arteries) may be seen on their surface. In certain lights, nodular basal cell carcinomas may have a slight sheen to them, described by doctors as 'pearliness'.

Superficial Basal Cell Carcinoma

Superficial basal cell carcinomas are, as their name suggests, on the very upper surface of the skin and have not yet started to grow deeper. These have a flat, pink appearance and can occasionally be scaly. The superficial BCCs may sometimes be confused with other conditions such as eczema or psoriasis. They may continue to grow in the very superficial part of the skin, and can get to a few centimetres in diameter, but can also start to grow deeper and look like the other types of BCC.

Morphoeic Basal Cell Carcinoma

The morphoeic basal cell carcinomas can be extremely hard to see and diagnose. These tend to be quite inconspicuous, and often look like indistinct scarring. Morphoeic basal cell carcinomas can become quite large before they are eventually noticed, usually when they start to bleed or form crusts (scabs). Fortunately they are a rarer form of basal cell carcinoma.

Infiltrative Basal Cell Carcinoma

Under a microscope, these look the same as the morphoeic basal cell carcinomas. On the skin though, the infiltrative BCCs can ulcerate, bleed and have crusting at an earlier stage. These are more commonly found than the morphoeic forms.


Click here to see pictures of basal cell carcinomas

Click here to learn about treatment options for basal cell carcinoma

This information is provided for general knowledge only and does not replace information provided by healthcare professionals. If you have any concerns of any skin growth, you should consult a medical professional urgently.

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