A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Basal cell carcinoma: Prevention is key

Basal cell carcinomawoman with hat concerned about basal cell carcinoma is the most common skin cancer in the U.S. Nearly 3.6 million cases are reported each year, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. Doctors see it all the time even though it is a completely preventable cancer.

Causes of basal cell carcinoma

“Basal cell carcinoma is caused by UV exposure nearly 100% of the time,” said Dr. Peter Lee, dermatologist at Marshfield Clinic Health System. “Indoor tanning is a huge risk factor.”

Doctors have long issued warnings to those who choose to spend time in a tanning bed. Those warnings are becoming more urgent as new research is discovered.

“You’d only need four sessions total in a tanning bed to increase your risk for skin cancer,” Dr. Lee said. “Studies show most women who spent their teenage years and twenties visiting tanning booths are likely to develop basal cells in their thirties and beyond.”


Basal cells are located at the bottom layer of the epidermis, wherever you have hair follicles. Wherever you grow hair, even if they’re barely visible, you can develop a basal cell carcinoma tumor.

“The number one location for basal cell carcinomas to occur is on the face, particularly the nose,” Dr. Lee said. “While basal cell carcinoma is very rarely a life-threatening condition, it can be debilitating if tumors continue to grow on the nose or face.”

Treatment with Mohs surgery

Mohs micrographic surgery is a specialized technique used to treat basal cell carcinoma by only removing the specific amount of skin that has cancer.

Surgeons cut the part of the skin cancer that is visible and also the layer of skin and deep tissue surrounding it. The layers are then processed in a laboratory in the clinic and the surgeon looks at the tissue under a microscope. If the cancer is still present at the margins, the surgeon will remove more layers until the cancer has been completely removed. This ensures that you are cured after the procedure is complete.

“When comparing Mohs to previous surgical techniques to remove skin cancer, it’s like using a video to find cancer cells as opposed to a still photo,” Dr. Lee said. “With the Mohs procedure, you’re able to see 100% of the margin. It’s an incredibly accurate technique with an over 99% cure rate.”


The best thing you can do to take care of your skin is to prevent sun damage. Wear protective clothing and hats, sunglasses and sunblock, avoid tanning booths and extended periods of time in the sun, and make sure you see a health care provider if you have a concern.

“If you notice a skin issue, don’t wait,” Dr. Lee said. “It’s best to be seen and take care of it while it’s small and manageable.”

For concerns about skin cancer, visit a Marshfield Clinic Health System provider.

Schedule appointment Message your provider

Related Shine365 articles

Weird spot on your skin: 7 ways to know if it’s concerning

Safeguard your skin with sunscreen

Facial reconstruction minimizes scars after skin cancer removal

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

View our comment policy