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Superficial basal cell carcinoma
Other Resources UpToDate PubMed

Superficial basal cell carcinoma

Contributors: Gaurav Singh MD, MPH, Sarah Hocker DO, Belinda Tan MD, PhD, William M. Lin MD, Susan Burgin MD
Other Resources UpToDate PubMed


Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common cancer in humans and the most common cancer of the skin. Two million Americans are diagnosed with BCC every year. It is a neoplasm of basal keratinocytes that is found more frequently in men than women. Rates of BCC have been increasing over the last several decades, particularly in young women. BCCs can be seen at almost any age. Nonetheless, the malignancy has greater incidence in older individuals, with a median age at diagnosis of 68 years.

There are many subtypes of BCC, including nodular, superficial, infundibulocystic, fibroepithelial, morpheaform (sclerosing, desmoplastic), infiltrative, micronodular, and basosquamous. Superficial BCCs typically occur at a younger age than other types of BCC (with a median age of 57 years at diagnosis) and are most commonly found on the trunk and extremities. They account for up to 30% of all BCCs and are the second most common subtype. In Black and Hispanic patients, BCCs are more commonly of the nodular subtype and are more often pigmented BCCs. Superficial BCCs typically grow horizontally but can become invasive. This horizontal spread is often not detected clinically, and superficial BCCs have a higher recurrence rate with surgical treatment.

The greatest risk factor contributing to the development of BCCs is sun exposure, and people with light skin phototypes are at higher risk. Intermittent sun exposure is more closely associated with the development of BCCs than cumulative ultraviolet (UV) exposure. Other risk factors for BCCs include environmental exposure (ie, ionizing radiation, indoor tanning, chemicals such as arsenic, psoralen plus UVA, and coal tar), phenotype (freckling, red hair, light skin that always burns and never tans), immunosuppression such as organ transplantation (which results in a 5-10 times higher risk of BCCs than the general population), and various genetic syndromes including xeroderma pigmentosum, oculocutaneous albinism, Muir-Torre syndrome, basal cell nevus syndrome (Gorlin syndrome), Rombo syndrome, and Bazex-Dupré-Christol syndrome. The gene most frequently altered in BCCs is the PTCH1 gene, followed by the TP53 gene.

Although BCCs are almost never fatal, local tissue destruction and disfiguration occur. The metastasis rate of BCCs is approximately 1 in 35 000. Metastasis is rare and typically occurs through perineural spread, lymph node metastasis, and then lung / bone metastasis.


C44.91 – Basal cell carcinoma of skin, unspecified

403914000 – Superficial basal cell carcinoma

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Last Reviewed:06/18/2023
Last Updated:04/30/2024
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Superficial basal cell carcinoma
A medical illustration showing key findings of Superficial basal cell carcinoma : Fine scaly plaque
Clinical image of Superficial basal cell carcinoma - imageId=75190. Click to open in gallery.  caption: 'A close-up of a deep pink plaque with some overlying scale.'
A close-up of a deep pink plaque with some overlying scale.
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