Stephen J. Schueler, M.D.

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Basal Cell Carcinoma Anatomy

To better understand basal cell carcinoma, it helps to understand the anatomy of the skin.

The skin contains three main layers:

  • Epidermis:
    • The superficial layer that makes up the surface of the skin
    • It is composed of skin cells and can be divided into 5 layers based on cell type.
    • The top layer of the epidermis, the stratum corneum, is made of dead, flat skin cells that shed about every 2 weeks.
    • The thickness of the epidermis varies, according to location: it is very thick over the soles of the feet, and very thin over the ears.
  • Dermis:
    • Lies beneath the epidermis
    • Also varies in thickness depending on the location of the skin. It is .3 mm on the eyelid and 3.0 mm on the back.
    • The dermis is composed of 2 layers that contain a connective tissue called collagen
    • The dermis contains blood vessels, nerves, sweat glands, and hair follicles.
    • The number of structures in the dermis varies, according to location.
    • The dermis under the arms contains more sweat glands and hair follicles than the dermis on the back.
  • Subcutaneous layer:
    • Mainly fat and connective tissue.
    • Contains blood vessels and nerves.

Last Updated: Dec 1, 2010 References
Authors: Stephen J. Schueler, MD; John H. Beckett, MD; D. Scott Gettings, MD
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PubMed Basal Cell Carcinoma References
  1. Bath-Hextall F, Bong J, Perkins W, Williams H. Interventions for basal cell carcinoma of the skin: systematic review. BMJ. 2004 Sep 25;329(7468):705. [15364703]
  2. Christenson LJ, Borrowman TA, et al. Incidence of basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas in a population younger than 40 years. JAMA. 2005 Aug 10;294(6):681-90. [16091570]
  3. Netscher DT, Spira M. Basal cell carcinoma: an overview of tumor biology and treatment. Plast Reconstr Surg. 2004 Apr;113(5):74E-94E. [15060341]
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