Skin Cancer Home > Basal Cell Carcinoma

Risk Factors

Basal cell carcinoma risk factors include:
  • Being exposed to a lot of natural or artificial sunlight
  • Having scars or burns on the skin
  • Being exposed to arsenic
  • Having chronic skin inflammation or skin ulcers
  • Being treated with radiation
  • Taking immunosuppressive drugs (for example, after an organ transplant)
  • Having actinic keratosis
  • Having a fair complexion (blond or red hair, fair skin, green or blue eyes, history of freckling).


Not all changes in the skin are a sign of basal cell carcinoma, but a doctor should be consulted if changes in the skin are seen (see Signs of Skin Cancer).

Diagnosing Basal Cell Carcinoma

Tests or procedures that examine the skin are used to detect and diagnose basal cell carcinoma. Common procedures include a skin examination or a biopsy.
Skin Examination
During a skin examination, a doctor or nurse will check the skin for bumps or spots that look abnormal in color, size, shape, or texture.
In a biopsy, all or part of the abnormal-looking growth is cut from the skin and viewed under a microscope by a pathologist to see if cancer cells are present. The three types of skin biopsies are:
  • Shave biopsy: A sterile razor blade is used to shave off the abnormal-looking growth
  • Excisional biopsy: A scalpel is used to remove the entire growth
  • Punch biopsy: A special instrument called a punch or a trephine is used to remove a circle of tissue from the abnormal-looking growth.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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