Basal keratinocytes are unpigmented skin cells found deep in the epidermis, hair follicles, and sweat glands. When they become cancerous, these cells invade the dermis (the layer of skin just below the epidermis) and spread out into the normal skin. They become visible as a small growth or area of change in the skin's appearance. These tumors can appear anywhere on the body, but most become evident on the face and neck.
Most basal cell carcinomas are small tumors that can be cured with simple surgeries. They usually grow quite slowly. However, neglected or aggressive tumors can invade vast amounts of skin. These cancers can also spread along bones, cartilage, muscles, and, more rarely, nerves. Some tumors may eventually reach the eye or brain or become large enough to significantly disfigure the face. These serious consequences are more likely if the tumor lies close to bone and cartilage—for instance, at the corner of the eye. Very few basal cell carcinomas spread to more distant organs; no more than five out of every 10, 000 of these tumors metastasize.
Most that do are very large, deep cancers that have been visible for years.
Anna Rovid Spickler D.V.M., Ph.D., The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit,