Basal cell carcinoma is the most common malignant neoplasm in humans and its incidence has increased over the last decades. Its high frequency significantly burdens the health system, making the disease a public health issue. Despite the low mortality rates and the rare occurrence of metastases, the tumor may be locally invasive and relapse after treatment, causing significant morbidity. Exposure to ultraviolet radiation is the main environmental risk factor associated with its cause. However, other elements of risk are described, such as light skin phototypes, advanced age, family history of skin carcinoma, light eyes and blond hair, freckles in childhood and immunosuppression. Behavioral aspects such as occupational sun exposure, rural labor and sunburns at a young age also play a role. Between 30% and 75% of the sporadic cases are associated with patched hedgehog gene mutation, but other genetic changes are also described. The tumor is commonly found in concomitance with skin lesions related to chronic sun exposure, such as actinic keratoses, solar lentigines and facial telangiectasia. The prevention of basal cell carcinoma is based on the knowledge of risk factors, early diagnosis and treatment, as well as on the adoption of specific measures, particularly in susceptible populations. The authors present a review of the epidemiology of basal cell carcinoma.