Skin cancer is extremely common, especially among people that spend a lot of time in the sun, and neglect skin care. But despite the seriousness of the condition, skin cancer is one of the most treatable forms of cancer, as long as it is diagnosed at an early stage. Mohs surgery is a precise and effective procedure that has been very successful in treating certain types of skin cancer. But what exactly is Mohs surgery, and how is it performed.
What is Mohs surgery?
Mohs surgery, also known as Mohs micrographic surgery is a highly specialized surgical technique that is used to treat skin cancer, especially basal cell carcinoma (BCC), and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). The procedure is named after Dr. Frederic Mohs who developed the technique in the 1930’s, while at the University of Wisconsin.
Mohs micrographic surgery has the highest cure rate of all skin cancer surgeries. The precise surgical technique used to carry out Mohs surgery focuses on removing only the skin that has cancer cells, so it helps to preserve as much of the healthy tissue as possible. This makes it the preferred treatment option for cancer that occurs in sensitive areas where there is not a lot of skin to spare, such as the face, neck, and hands.
What’s involved in Mohs Surgery?
Mohs surgery is performed as an outpatient procedure under local anesthesia, so patients are awake throughout. Surgery is performed at a surgical facility with a laboratory, so that the cancer tissue excised can be examined on site, while the patient waits.
There are several steps involved in Mohs surgery. At the start of the procedure, local anesthesia is injected into the affected area, in order to minimize discomfort during the operation.
The surgeon will then excise the visible portion of the tumor above the skin, along with a thin layer of skin around and below the tumor. The specimen is divided into sections, each of which is color coded with dyes. Marks are also made on the skin, so that the area from which the specimen was taken can be easily identified. The specimen is then examined under the microscope, to see if there is any sign of cancer cells.
If cancer is detected, the surgeon will go back and take a bit more tissue from the exact area where the cancer cells remain. The layer of tissue is again analyzed under the microscope, and the process is repeated until all traces of cancer are gone.
Depending on the size of the wound, the incision may be sutured, or left to heal on its own. There are also cases in which the wound may be quite extensive, and require reconstructive surgery.
The duration of Mohs surgery varies, because it depends on the extent of cancer that has to be removed, so surgery may take a couple hours or the entire day.
Advantages of Mohs surgery
- Mohs surgery is a very thorough technique because it removes the cancer one tissue layer at a time, until no cancer cells remain. This surgical method is able to effectively target the extensions of the tumor that are below the surface of the skin, and therefore not visible. This significantly reduces the chances of cancer recurring.
- Provides the best cosmetic outcome, as it preserves as much healthy skin tissue as possible.
- Performed under local anesthesia, so patients don’t have to be concerned about the risks associated with general anesthesia.
- Minimal scarring makes Mohs surgery ideal for treating cancer on delicate areas like the face and hands.
What is recovery like after Mohs Surgery?
There may be some localized swelling and bruising after Mohs surgery, but this should resolve within 5-7 days. Discomfort is minimal, but pain medication is prescribed as required. Physical activity should be limited for at least 7 days after Mohs surgery, to give the wound enough time to heal.
Would you like to learn more about Mohs surgery?
Contact Dermatology and Plastic Surgery of Arizona, with offices in Tucson and Sierra Vista, AZ.
Call 520-207-3100 today to schedule a consultation at the Tucson location or 520-458-1787 for the Sierra Vista location.