This 'Tiny Dot' Looked Like a Pimple—But Was Actually Skin Cancer

Basal cell carcinoma can resemble a blemish, scar, or sore

Sure you’d notice an irregular mole on your face and head to your dermatologist to get it checked out ASAP. But would you recognize a more subtle sign of skin cancer? Keely Jones, 40, owner of a North Carolina–based beauty company, shared frightening photos of the only sign of her basal cell carcinoma—a red blemish that looked like your run-of-the-mill pimple.

“See that tiny dot in the first pic? That’s all that showed on the surface,” Jones wrote in a Facebook post detailing the diagnosis and treatment. Turns out, more skin cancer lurked under the surface of the skin; she needed three procedures to remove it all.

The pimple-like mark was brought to her attention while getting a facial. A beautician had noticed the reddish spot and suggested Jones see a dermatologist. "I don't usually have blemishes on my face, so it was unusual for me to get a spot,” Jones told the Daily Mail. “I thought it was just a stubborn one, so I just continued to pick it and every time it would just scab over and bleed."

Asian woman checking her facial skin condition, looking at mirror

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What Is Basal Cell Carcinoma?

Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer, and it usually develops on places that see the most sun, like the face, head, neck, and back of the hands, according to the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD). Other common areas are the shoulders, arms, and legs.

Basal cell skin cancers happen with an abnormal, uncontrolled growth of basal cells. This type of skin cancer tends to grow slowly. It is usually curable and causes minimal damage when caught and treated early.

Signs and Symptoms of Basal Cell Carcinoma

These suspicious spots are often pinkish or take on the color of your skin. Sometimes they’re shiny, scaly, or waxy; they might also bleed, ooze, and crust over, as Jones experienced.

While basal cell carcinoma can also resemble a pimple or a blemish, they don’t behave like one. “Picture a pimple that seems to heal, only to return again,” Ariel Ostad, MD, clinical associate professor of dermatology at New York University, told Health.

Signs of basal cell carcinoma, according to the AAD, include:

  • Pink or reddish growth that dips in the center
  • Growth or scaly patch on or near your ear
  • Sore that doesn't heal, or heals and returns
  • Scaly, slightly raised patch of irritated skin
  • Round growth that may be the same color as your skin
  • Spot on the skin that feels a bit scaly or looks like an age spot
  • Scar-like mark on your skin that may be skin-colored or waxy

When to See a Healthcare Provider

If you find a spot that’s changing, growing, or bleeding, talk to a dermatologist ASAP.

Found early, basal cell carcinoma is highly treatable, but without medical attention, it can spread, destroying skin, tissue and even bone, according to the AAD.

Treatment

When possible, the main treatment for basal cell carcinoma is surgical removal. There are three surgical options and which one is used will depend on where its located and how deep it goes.

Surgical options include:

  • Excision, or cutting it out along with some skin around it
  • Mohs surgery, which involves cutting away thin layers in stages to minimize the removal of healthy tissue and to leave the smallest possible scar
  • Curettage and electrodesiccation, which involves scraping away the skin cancer and then using a procedure with heat to destroy any cancer cells that may be remaining

Other treatment options that may be used include cryotherapy, or freezing, or light therapy.

How to Reduce Your Risk

There are some things that you can do to reduce your risk of basal cell carcinoma and other skin cancers, such as protecting your skin from the sun and avoiding tanning beds or indoor tanning equipment.

Things you can do to protect your skin include:

  • Try to seek shade when outdoors and/or try to limit time spent outside during 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. when the sun is strongest.
  • Wear at least SPF 30 sunscreen.
  • Wear protective clothing such as a wide-brimmed hat and long-sleeve shirt and sunglasses.

Jones hardly used tanning beds and avoided the sun and hoped the graphic photos would raise awareness.

“I hesitated to share these pics because I know it may be gross or shocking to see in your newsfeeds. But if this post encourages even ONE person to set up a dermatology appointment and be checked, then it’s worth it,” Jones wrote on Facebook. “If you’ve never been to the #dermatologist or it’s been a while since you’re last visit... please call them ASAP.”

Once you’ve had basal cell carcinoma, you have a higher risk of developing another skin cancer, including melanoma, which is the most dangerous type. It's important to do regular self exams and to see a dermatologist regularly so that any skin cancers can be diagnosed and treated early.

A Quick Review

Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer. It usually develops on areas of skin with a lot of sun exposure and causes minimal damage when caught and treated early.

It can look many different ways and can be mistaken for a pimple or sore. If you notice a spot that won't heal or is changing or growing, get it examined by a healthcare provider.

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Sources
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  1. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Basal cell carcinoma.

  2. Skin Cancer Foundation. Basal cell carcinoma overview.

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