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About Rodent Ulcers

Rodent ulcers are harmless skin cancers that are easily cured while they are small. Another name for a rodent ulcer is a Basal Cell Carcinoma (often abbreviated to BCC). They are the most common form of human cancer and usually occur on the head and neck, more commonly in people over 40. Around 100,000 cases are treated by doctors in the NHS in England every year.

People frequently do not realise that they have a rodent ulcer, as the ulcers are slow-growing and tend not to give much trouble early on, until they start to fail to heal.

Diagnosis of these without investigation is possible in most cases by an expert. This can either be by simple examination of the skin lesion or with the help of a special skin magnifier, called a dermatoscope, which increases diagnostic accuracy.

Sometimes an initial small sampling biopsy is needed to make a diagnosis to see if excisional surgery should be undertaken, or if another treatment would be suitable for a skin lesion. This biopsy is a simple local anaesthetic procedure, taking a small disc of tissue 4mm in size or less. This sample is sent to the laboratory to be looked at under a microscope by a specialist skin pathologist.

The small hole left by a sampling biopsy is usually closed with one or two often dissolving stitches, and scarring is usually very minimal.

The biopsy will give information on what the abnormality is, and what the options are for treatment if needed.  Sometimes we do not need to carry out any further surgery, and so a larger operation will be avoided. Some types of skin lesions can be treated without surgery and some need to be totally removed by a further operation.

However, if a rodent ulcer is left for a few years, it will locally destroy further tissue and it will not go away on its own. If they are left untreated, they can result in part of the face being eaten away, and this can rarely be fatal if neglected. Rodent ulcers do not spread in the body except in exceptionally rare cases. Being treated as early as possible minimises the amount of tissue which needs to be removed in their treatment, and to increase the chance of a complete cure. In the elderly however, particulary if there are other medical problems, not intervening is sometimes the best course of action.

See examples of Rodent Ulcers (Basal Cell Carcinomas)
[note: medical photographs]

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