According to the American Academy of Dermatology, skin cancer is the most prevalent form of cancer in the U.S., affecting approximately one in five Americans during their lifetime and more than 3 million citizens each year. Unfortunately, these numbers are on the rise and researchers predict that this trend will continue. However, while certain types of skin cancer can be devastating and fatal, the most common types – basal cell carcinomas (BCCs) and squamous cell carcinomas (SCCs) – are often completely curable if detected early on and properly treated.
A surgical procedure known as Mohs micrographic surgery has proven itself to be the most effective method for removing BCC and SCC tumors. In fact, in addition to having a high success rate, Mohs micrographic surgery also yields several additional benefits for patients. Let’s further explore this specific surgical procedure for skin cancer and its benefits.
Dr. Frederic Mohs first developed micrographic surgery in the 1930s, which involved removing a small sample of skin affected by cancer and examining it under a high-powered (for the time) microscope. By getting a close-up view of an affected area, Mohs could determine whether or not the tumor was limited to that one section or deeper and more widespread. He would then gradually remove thin layers of skin and check them under the microscope again until the tumor was completely removed. This careful, targeted, and detailed approach meant that the surrounding healthy tissue could be left unscathed, and only the skin harboring cancer would be removed.
Of course, as time went on and technology improved, the Mohs surgical procedure became more precise, less invasive, and more affordable.
Mohs micrographic surgery has many distinct advantages. While the procedure isn’t entirely infallible and contains a few risks (most of them minor or quite rare), it is highly effective and less sensitive or invasive than many other types of surgical procedures for skin cancer or other cancers. Let’s go over these benefits and advantages in more detail.
All types of skin cancer (and cancer in general) must be clearly identified and located before proper treatment is possible. BCCs and SCCs, the primary focus of Mohs surgery, are typically isolated and clearly visible. In other words, it’s usually not difficult to point out where the problem areas are. However, cancerous tumors can lie deep beneath the skin, requiring additional tools and methods to determine just how deep they go. By employing a high-powered microscope to examine thin skin samples, the Mohs method is effective at identifying the entirety of the tumor and only removing the cancerous tissue. While other cancer identification methods exist, Mohs remains one of the most viable for skin cancer.
The most important aspect of evaluating any surgical procedure is its success rate. With a 99% cure rate for patients with previously untreated skin cancer and 94% cure rate for those with a recurring tumor, Mohs micrographic surgery undeniably passes this rubric. Best of all, the vast majority of Mohs procedures are done in a single visit, usually taking about 1-3 hours. Follow-up visits may be required to check on the healing process, etc., but additional surgery is typically not necessary.
Removing the cancer is, of course, the main priority and purpose of any surgical procedure for skin cancer. However, most patients also care about how they look and feel afterward. Because Mohs surgical procedures minimize damage to healthy tissue, scarring is usually minor and often fades away with proper scar treatment and care. There are, of course, some exceptions. If the tumor is very deep, unusually shaped, and/or more widespread than normal, stitches or skin grafts may be required to ensure the skin heals. These healing methods often lead to a more prominent scar than healing by second intention, but proper care can still reduce the skin’s discoloration over time.
Some cancer treatments and surgeries require frequent visits and span months, if not years before full recovery can be made. Mohs surgery, on the other hand, delivers a much faster and easier recovery period. In most cases, it takes about a month (or 4-6 weeks) for the wound leftover by surgery to fully heal and complications are uncommon.
Mohs micrographic surgery is a highly effective, low-risk, and beneficial skin cancer treatment that has saved and improved so many lives affected by skin cancer. This is one of the surgical services offered at Premier Dermatology Partners. To learn more about our team and all the services we provide, contact us.