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Microsoft word - basal cell carcinoma - rvw jan 2013.doc
Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC)
What is a Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC)?
A basal cell carcinoma is a type of non-melanoma skin cancer and is the most
common in the UK. It is sometimes also called a ‘rodent ulcer’. Non-melanoma
cancers are less dangerous than malignant melanomas. What causes a basal cell carcinoma?
The commonest cause is too much exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light, from the
sun or from sun beds. BCCs can occur anywhere on your body, but are most
common on areas that are exposed to the sun, such as your face, head, neck
and ears. It is also possible for a BCC to develop where burns, scars or ulcers
have damaged the skin. BCCs are not contagious. Who is most likely to have a basal cell carcinoma?
Basal cell carcinomas mainly affect fair skinned adults and are more common in
men than women. Those with the highest risk of developing a BCC are people:
• with freckles or with pale skin and blonde or red hair • who have had a lot of exposure to the sun, such as people with outdoor
hobbies, outdoor workers and people who live in sunny climates
• who use sun beds • who have previously had a BCC
Are basal cell carcinomas hereditary?
Apart from a rare familial condition called Gorlin’s syndrome, BCCs are not
hereditary. However, some of the things that increase the risk of getting one (e.g.
fair skin, a tendency to burn and freckling) do run in families. What are basal cell carcinomas like?
Most BCCs are painless. People often first become aware of them as a scab that
bleeds occasionally and does not heal completely. Some BCCs are very
superficial and look like a scaly red flat mark: others show a white pearly rim
surrounding a central crater and if left for years can ‘gnaw away’ at the skin,
eventually causing an ulcer – hence the name ‘rodent ulcer’. Other BCCs are
quite lumpy, with one or more shiny nodules crossed by small but easily seen
Can a basal cell carcinoma be cured?
Yes, BCCs can be cured in almost every case, although treatment becomes
complicated if they have been neglected for a very long time, or if they are in a
very awkward place, such as near the eye, nose or ear. Seldom, if ever, do they
spread to other parts of the body. How can a basal cell carcinoma be treated?
You will probably have your BCC removed surgically. Usually, this means cutting
away the BCC along with some clear skin around it, under a local anaesthetic.
Sometimes, a small skin graft is needed. Another type of surgery is Mohs
micrographic surgery but this is only undertaken if simple surgery is not suitable.
Other types of treatment, which are used less often, include:
• Photodynamic therapy – use of special light to destroy the BCC
• Curettage and cautery – BCC is scraped away and then the skin surface is
• Cryotherapy – freezing with a very cold substance (liquid nitrogen)
• Radiotherapy – shining x-rays onto the BCC
• Creams – applied to skin. Usually Fluorouracil and Imiquimod How can I help to prevent a skin cancer?
The best method for prevention of any type of skin cancer is to stay out of the sun and if
you do go out, keep covered up with a wide brimmed hat, long-sleeved shirt or blouse
and long trousers or skirt. Avoid strong sunlight, particularly between 11am and 3pm.
Wear a high protection sunscreen (factor 15 and above) on exposed skin any
time you go out of doors, even on overcast days.
Remember that winter sun, on a skiing holiday for instance, contains just as
much of the damaging ultraviolet light as summer sun. Do not use sun beds. How do I detect a skin cancer?
Treatment is much easier if skin cancer is detected at an early stage. You must
see your doctor if you are worried about anything or have any marks or scabs on
your skin which are:
• Growing • Bleeding • Changing appearance in any way • Never completely healing properly
Remember if in doubt…check it out!
Macmillan Cancer Support
Tel: 0808 808 00 00 Cancer research UK
Tel: 0800 800 4040 Contact us
Should you have any further concerns or questions, please do not hesitate to
contact us: Outpatients Department
Tel: 01342 414456
Please ask if you would like this leaflet in a larger print or a
Mr Paul E Banwell BSc (Hon) FRCS (Eng) FRCS (Plast)
Consultant Plastic, Reconstructive & Aesthetic Surgeon
Approved by the QVH Patient Information Group
Print January 2010 – Review January 2013
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