Detecting Skin Cancer: Not Just a Summertime Precaution

Jillian Macdonald MD, FRCPC, FACMS

None of us are strangers to acne, but a pimple-like growth may be the first sign of a cancerous tumour. Basal cell carcinoma, also referred to as BCC, is the most common type of skin cancer. While it affects 50,000 to 60,000 Canadians each year, it can be challenging to recognize. Many patients say they thought the affected area was just a pimple that bled occasionally and wouldn’t go away.

Given the relatively benign appearance, and the lack of symptoms, this form of cancer can go undetected for years. It is important to be vigilant throughout the year – not just during the summer – so that it can be diagnosed and treated early.

What to look for

As a dermatologist, I counsel my patients to be watchful of anything that looks like a scar, pimple or patch of eczema, but doesn’t go away in four to six weeks. This may be something more serious. If it starts to enlarge, or bleed without a major cause, it could be the start of basal cell carcinoma.

Typically, basal cell carcinoma will appear as a skin- coloured, or slightly pink firm bump with a pearly border, on areas of the body that are exposed to the sun. It may also look like a small, pink scaly patch similar to eczema, or pimple-like growth that bleeds or crusts over, but does not go away completely.

While these symptoms are specific, each person’s basal cell carcinoma is different. If you see any of these symptoms, consult your healthcare provider immediately.

The most common skin cancer

Basal cell carcinoma is sometimes described as an iceberg; the extent of the damage is hard to see with the naked eye and the bulk of the tumour is located underneath the skin. Because of its potential to appear benign-looking, it often goes undetected, resulting in tumours slowly growing without patients realizing it.

Each case of basal cell carcinoma is unique and there are many different types. The more aggressive forms tend to spread into the deeper layers of the skin and can slowly, become disfiguring over time.

Educate yourself

If you have been diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma, it’s important to know that there are multiple treatment options available. When detected early, it can be easily treated with excellent cure rates. If it has become more invasive or advanced, there are still options available with very high cure rates.

It is important to educate yourself so that you can take an active part in your treatment plan, including informed discussions with your physician. For more information about basal cell carcinoma, visit talkBCC ( or speak with your doctor.