Basal cell carcinoma is the most common malignancy in humans. Although rarely metastatic, it is capable of significant local destruction and disfigurement. This two-part article reviews the current understanding of basal cell carcinoma biology. Part I examines significant clinical, histologic, and ultrastructural features that relate to invasive potential. Genetic characteristics, including tumor growth rate, chromosomal abnormalities, and oncogene presence, are discussed, and expression of important cell and matrix proteins, including keratin, fibronectin, and HLA antigens, are reviewed. Further topics to be explored in Part II include host immunologic responses, theories of pathogenesis, and valuable second-line therapeutic regimens for treatment of multiple cancers.