After the initial surgical procedure or other treatment for your basal cell carcinoma (BCC), you can take proactive measures to prevent additional tumors from forming (secondary prevention). These preventive steps include keeping an appropriate follow-up medical appointment schedule, conducting skin self-examinations, and practicing sun safety.*
After you have completed your treatment for BCC, it is important to keep all follow-up medical appointments, because you are at risk of your BCC returning (recurring) as well as for developing a new BCC. Of all patients with BCC, thirty to fifty percent will develop another BCC within five years. You are also at risk of developing other skin cancers, such as melanoma, so it is important to be followed closely by your dermatologist. Ideally, you should see your dermatologist at least every 6-12 months after a BCC diagnosis for the first two years, and then yearly after that if no new tumors occur.
It’s important that you conduct skin self-examinations on a regular basis. These exams are an important aspect of early detection for BCC and other skin cancers. If you’re unsure how to perform a skin self-exam, click here for a pictorial tutorial. If you find anything suspicious during your exam, call your dermatologist’s office and tell them that you’ve been treated for BCC.
Patients with a history of BCC need to practice meticulous sun protection. You can review guidelines for protecting yourself from UV radiation in the SUN SAFETY section. The main points are:
Chemoprophylaxis, the use of a chemical agent or drug to prevent the development of a disease, has an unclear role in BCC. Oral retinoids, which have a limited role in squamous cell skin cancer, are not recommended for use in patients with BCC. Experts disagree about the role of nicotinamide, a vitamin B3 supplement, to prevent the development of BCCs in patients who have already had one. If you are in a high-risk group (e.g., you have a genetic syndrome), it’s worth having a conversation about chemoprophylaxis with your doctor.
*In this section, we refer to follow-up and other secondary prevention strategies. We consulted the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) guidelines on these topics. These professional groups are the foremost authorities on skin cancer management. To consult these guidelines, please see RESOURCES.