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What to know about basal cell carcinoma, President Biden’s skin cancer, and importance of early detection

IN THE NEWS: President Joe Biden recently had a small skin lesion removed from his chest during a comprehensive health assessment. A biopsy confirmed the lesion was basal cell carcinoma. “It is well-established that President Biden did spend a good deal of time in the sun in his youth,” White House physician Kevin O’Connor stated in the President’s February health summary. All cancerous tissue was successfully removed and no further treatment is required.

OUR TAKE: Basal cell carcinoma, the most common form of skin cancer, is caused by daily sun exposure over a person’s lifetime. More than 4 to 5 million cases are diagnosed each year in the U.S. and it usually affects fair-skinned individuals.

“I always tell my patients: It’s not that one time where you got that bad sunburn, it’s a little bit every day that adds up,” says Luiz Pantalena, MD, PhD, Beacon Medical Group dermatologic surgeon. “Early detection is the name of the game.”

A basal cell carcinoma is usually detected visually by a dermatologist during a routine full body skin check. Initially, it looks like a clear or translucent bump, but it takes a trained eye to distinguish this from many other benign bumps that can grow on the skin. When advanced, it looks more like an ulcer or large open wound.

A suspected lesion is sampled or biopsied and sent for microscopic confirmation. If skin cancer is confirmed by the lab, then a visit to a skin surgeon for complete removal is usually required. Basal cell carcinoma lesions do not tend to spread or metastasize, as some more serious skin cancers such as melanoma or squamous cell carcinoma are known to do, Dr. O’Connor stated in his memorandum.

If you have a history of skin cancer, history of sun exposure over your lifetime, or any suspicious spots on your skin, Dr. Pantalena emphasizes the importance of skin cancer screenings. Basal cell carcinomas tend to start to appear after age 40, but sometimes they can develop earlier.

“I recommend a skin check at least annually after 40, and also if you have anything suspicious on your skin,” Dr. Pantalena says. “You can also bring any concerning spots to the attention of your family doctor during a routine visit.”

Call 574-647-DERM or schedule your screening online today.

Or click here to schedule an appointment with a Beacon primary care provider.