In the United States over 5 million people each year are treated for the two most common skin cancers, basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC).
And over 80 percent of BCC and SCC skin cancers occur on the head and neck, the areas of the skin that receive the most sun exposure. Treating skin cancer in those areas can be challenging both because there is little tissue underneath the skin and there may be cosmetic implications of surgery. Dermatologists often refer these cases to a specialist for Mohs surgery.
The mere words “cancer” and “surgery” are enough to alarm anyone, so if your dermatologist has recommended Mohs surgery for your skin cancer treatment, let's learn more about the procedure to put your mind to rest.
What is Mohs surgery?
Mohs surgery (also called micrographic surgery) is a highly effective and specialized procedure that removes BCCs and SCCs in stages to ensure ALL the cancer cells have been excised while leaving as much healthy skin and tissue as possible.
It has an incredible cure rate :
- Up to 99% for skin cancers that haven’t been treated before
- Up to 94% for skin cancers that have come back after prior treatment
Who performs the surgery?
The procedure will be performed by a doctor who has received extensive training in the Mohs surgery technique, pathology, and reconstructive surgery.
What happens during the procedure?
In most cases, the procedure will be performed as an outpatient procedure in a medical office and will last just a few hours, but you should clear your schedule for the entire day of the procedure.
The Mohs surgery will be performed under local anesthesia, so you will remain awake during the procedure.
Here’s how the process works.
You’ll receive an injection of anesthetic in the area to be operated on. Once you’re completely numb, the visible portion of the tumor will be removed.
Next, a layer of tissue with a narrow margin around the tumor will be surgically removed. Your wound will receive a temporary bandage while the doctor views the tissue.
In the lab, the tissue will be cut into sections, color coded with dye, and a map will be drawn of the surgical site. The tissue will be frozen, cut, and stained for examination.
The surgeon will examine the tissue with a microscope to see if there is any remaining cancer. If cancer cells are present, the surgeon will mark them on the site map and return to remove another layer of skin. This process is repeated until the surgeon finds no further evidence of cancer.
Once the surgery is complete, the wound may be closed with stitches or left open to heal on its own. That depends on its size and location.
Advantages of Mohs Surgery
According to the American College of Mohs Surgery, advantages of Mohs surgery include:
- Ensuring complete cancer removal during surgery, virtually eliminating the chance of the cancer growing back
- Minimizing the amount of healthy tissue lost
- Maximizing the functional and cosmetic outcome resulting from surgery
- Repairing the site of the cancer the same day the cancer is removed, in most cases
- Curing skin cancer when other methods have failed
Another major benefit of Mohs surgery is that you know all of the skin cancer has been removed before you leave the doctor’s office.
You may need a follow-up appointment with your surgeon or dermatologist to make sure your wound is healing well.
The Importance of Follow Up and Preventive Care
If you’ve been diagnosed with BCC or SCC there is an chance you will develop more skin cancers.
The good news is that when skin cancer is detected early, it is highly curable, so make sure to schedule regular skin exams with your dermatologist and maintain good sun protection habits by using sunscreen daily, wearing protective clothing, a hat and sunglasses, and avoiding the sun during the hottest part of the day.
If you have questions about Mohs surgery or need to schedule a skin cancer screening call Integrated Dermatology of Tidewater at 757-461-1033 Opt. 1.