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What is Mohs Surgery
Mohs surgery is an advanced treatment procedure for skin cancer, offers the highest potential for cure – even if the skin cancer has been previously treated. This procedure is state-of-the-art treatment in which the physician serves as surgeon, pathologist and reconstructive surgeon. It relies on the accuracy of a microscope to trace and ensure removal of skin cancer down to its roots. This technique allows dermatologists, trained in Mohs surgery, to see beyond the visible disease, and to precisely identify and remove the entire tumor, leaving healthy tissue unharmed. This procedure is most often used in treating three of the most common forms of skin cancer: melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, and squamous cell carcinoma.
The cure rate for Mohs surgery is the highest of all treatments for skin cancer — up to 99 percent even if other forms of treatment have failed. This procedure, the most exact and precise method of tumor removal, minimizes the chance of cancer regrowth and lessens the potential for scarring and disfigurement.
Developed by Frederic E. Mohs, M.D. in the 1930s, the Mohs surgical procedure has been refined and perfected for more than half a century. Initially, Dr. Mohs removed tumors with a chemosurgical technique. Thin layers of chemically fixed tissue were excised for pathological examination. He developed a unique technique of color-coding excised specimens and created a mapping process to accurately identify the location of remaining cancerous cells.
As the process evolved, surgeons refined the technique and now excise the tumor, remove layers of tissue which are color coded, mapped, frozen, sectioned, and immediately examined with the microscope by the physician. The chemosurgical technique developed by Dr. Mohs is no longer used. This reduces the normal treatment time to one visit and allows for immediate reconstruction of the wound. The heart of the procedure — the color-coded mapping of excised specimens and their thorough microscopic examination – remains the definitive and unique part of the Mohs surgical procedure.
Clinical studies have shown that Mohs surgery has a five-year cure rate up to 99 percent in the treatment of basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma.
Common treatment procedures often prove ineffective because they rely on the human eye to determine the extent of the cancer. In an effort to preserve healthy tissue, too little tissue may be removed resulting in recurrence of the cancer. If the surgeon is overcautious, more healthy tissue than necessary may be removed, causing excessive scarring.
Some tumors do not respond well to common treatments, including those greater than two centimeters in diameter, those in difficult locations and tumors complicated by previous treatment. Removing a recurring skin cancer is more complicated because scar tissue makes it difficult to differentiate between cancerous and healthy tissue.
Mohs surgery is primarily used to treat basal and squamous cell carcinomas, but can be used to treat less common tumors including melanoma and others. Mohs surgery is indicated when:
- the cancer was treated previously and recurred
- scar tissue exists in the area of the cancer
- the cancer is in an area where it is important to preserve healthy tissue for functional and cosmetic result, such as eyelids, nose, ears, lips
- the cancer is large
- the edges of the cancer cannot be clearly defined
- the cancer grows rapidly or uncontrollably
- a map of the excised tissue
- a microscope
- remove an additional, thin layer of tissue from the tumor site
- create a “map” or drawing of the removed tissue to be used as a guide to the precise location of any remaining cancer cells
- microscopically examine the removed tissue thoroughly to check for evidence of remaining cancer cells
- return to the specific area of the residual tumor indicated by the map
- remove another thin layer of tissue only from the specific area(s) where cancer cells were detected
- microscopically examine the newly removed tissue for additional cancer cells
The most effective method of managing the wound resulting from surgery is determined after the cancer is completely removed. When the final defect is known, management is individualized to achieve the best results possible and to preserve function and maximize aesthetics. The Mohs surgeon is also trained in reconstructive procedures and often will perform the reconstructive procedure necessary to repair the wound. A small wound may be allowed to heal on its own, or the wound may be closed with stitches, a skin graft or a flap. On occasion, another surgical specialist with unique skills may complete the reconstruction.
Besides its high cure rate, Mohs surgery also has shown to be cost effective. In a study of costs of various types of skin cancer removal, the Mohs process was found to be comparable when compared to the cost of other procedures, such as electrodesiccation and curettage, cryosurgery, excision or radiation therapy. Mohs surgery preserves the maximum amount of normal skin which results in smaller scars. Repairs are more often simple and involve fewer complicated reconstructive procedures.
With its high cure rate, Mohs surgery minimizes the risk of recurrence and eliminates the additional costs of larger, more serious surgery for recurrent cancers. The Mohs procedure is performed in the surgeon’s office and pathological examinations are immediate. The entire process is usually completed in a single day.
The highly-trained surgeons that perform Mohs surgery are specialists both in dermatology and pathology. With their extensive knowledge of the skin and unique pathological skills, they are able to remove only diseased tissue, preserving healthy tissue and minimizing the cosmetic impact of the surgery. Dr. Zitelli and Dr. Brodland are fellowship trained in programs recognized and approved by the American College of Mohs Surgery (ACMS).
The Mohs College currently recognizes more than 50 training centers where qualified applicants receive comprehensive training in Mohs surgery. The minimum training period is one year during which the dermatologist acquires extensive experience in all aspects of Mohs surgery, pathology and training in reconstructive surgery.