Conditions & Treatments

Basal Cell Carcinoma

Basal cell cancer, sometimes called non-melanoma skin cancer, usually appears as a small, fleshy bump or nodule on the head, neck, or hands. Occasionally, these nodules appear on the trunk of the body, usually as flat growths.

Basal Cell Carcinoma

What is basal cell carcinoma?

Basal cell cancer, a type of nonmelanoma skin cancer, usually appears as a small, fleshy bump or nodule on the head, neck, or hands. Occasionally, these nodules appear on the trunk of the body, usually as flat growths. Basal cell carcinoma accounts for the majority of all skin cancers in the United States. It is often easily detected and has an excellent record for successful treatment.

Nearly all basal cell carcinomas can be treated successfully, although in some cases they may recur (come back after treatment). Although this type of cancer rarely spreads to other parts of the body, it can extend below the skin to the bone and cause considerable local damage if not treated. And, having a basal cell carcinoma places people at high risk for developing additional skin cancers.

Who is at risk for basal cell carcinoma?

Basal cell carcinoma is the most common skin cancer found in whites and is much less common in people with dark skin. People who have this cancer frequently have light hair, eyes, and complexions, and they do not tan easily. Other risk factors for basal cell carcinoma include:

  • Excess exposure to UV radiation (sunlight or tanning beds)

  • Older age

  • Male gender

  • Exposure to certain chemicals

  • Radiation exposure

  • Long-term skin inflammation or injury

  • Treatment for psoriasis using psoralens and ultraviolet light treatments  

  • History of skin cancer

  • Basal cell nevus (Gorlin) syndrome (a rare inherited disorder) 

How does basal cell carcinoma develop?

This highly treatable cancer starts in the basal cell layer of the epidermis (the top layer of skin) and grows very slowly. A basal cell carcinoma usually appears as a small, shiny bump or nodule on the skin, and mainly on the areas exposed to the sun, such as the head, neck, arms, hands, and face.

Treatment Programs


Massachusetts General Hospital understands that a variety of factors influence patients' health care decisions. That's just one reason why we're dedicated to ensuring patients understand their diagnosis and treatment options. Because a single option might not serve all patients, we offer a wide range of coordinated treatments and related services across the hospital. Patients should consult with their primary care doctor or other qualified health care provider for medical advice and diagnosis information.

Select a treatment program for more information:



Cancer Center

  • Skin Cancer (Melanoma)
    Skin cancer treatment at the internationally renowned Center for Melanoma offers novel therapies for individuals with advanced melanoma.
Imaging

  • Cancer Imaging and Intervention
    The Cancer Imaging and Intervention Program at Massachusetts General Hospital Imaging combines leading-edge technology and the expertise of specialty-trained radiologists to provide comprehensive cancer detection and monitoring, plus image-guided treatments for specific types of cancer.
MassGeneral Hospital for Children

  • Pediatric Anesthesia
    The Pediatric Anesthesia team at MassGeneral Hospital for Children specializes in caring for children before, during and after surgery and other procedures.
Department of Dermatology

  • High Risk Skin Cancer Clinic (Non-Melanoma)
    The High Risk Skin Cancer Clinic (HRSCC) at Massachusetts General Hospital provides comprehensive care for those patients at greater risk for non-melanoma skin cancer, specifically solid organ transplant recipients and patients with certain types of leukemia.
  • The Medical Dermatology Program
    The Medical Dermatology program at Massachusetts General Hospital is a full-service dermatology practice that provides care for all skin, hair and nail conditions.
  • Dermatologic Surgery Unit
    Massachusetts General Hospital's Dermatologic Surgery Unit offers world-class expertise in Mohs micrographic surgery and a number of other cosmetic surgical procedures
Department of Radiation Oncology

  • Sarcoma Program
    The Sarcoma Program in the Department of Radiation Oncology uses state-of-the-art radiation therapies to treat soft tissue and bone tumors, both malignant and benign.
  • Thoracic Program
    Specialists in the Department of Radiation Oncology's Thoracic Program treat patients with lung and esophageal cancers and other tumors of the chest using the latest radiation therapies.
Division of Surgical Oncology

The following related clinical trials and research studies are currently seeking participants at Massachusetts General Hospital. Search for clinical trials and studies in another area of interest.

Innovative care at the Cancer Center

Learn more about the latest treatment options for this condition at the Cancer Center