What is mohs surgery?

HotbotBy HotBotUpdated: July 9, 2024

Mohs surgery, also known as Mohs micrographic surgery, is a precise surgical technique used to treat skin cancer. Named after Dr. Frederic E. Mohs who developed the procedure in the 1930s, this technique is designed to remove skin cancer layer by layer while preserving as much healthy tissue as possible. It has become the gold standard for treating certain types of skin cancer due to its high cure rates and tissue-sparing properties.

The History of Mohs Surgery

Dr. Frederic E. Mohs first introduced his eponymous surgery in the early 20th century. Initially, the procedure involved applying a zinc chloride paste to the tumor for fixation before excision. Over the years, the technique evolved to use fresh tissue processing, which is now the standard practice. This evolution has significantly improved the effectiveness and safety of the procedure, making it a preferred method for treating skin cancers, particularly those on the face and other sensitive areas.

Indications for Mohs Surgery

Mohs surgery is primarily indicated for:

  • Basal cell carcinoma (BCC)
  • Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC)
  • Other less common skin cancers such as melanoma, dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans (DFSP), and Merkel cell carcinoma

It is especially recommended for skin cancers that:

  • Have a high risk of recurrence
  • Are located in areas where preserving cosmetic and functional tissue is crucial (e.g., face, ears, hands, feet)
  • Have poorly defined borders
  • Are large or aggressive
  • Have recurred after previous treatment

The Mohs Surgery Procedure

The Mohs surgery procedure is meticulous and involves several stages:

Initial Examination

The surgeon examines the skin cancer and maps out the area to be treated. Local anesthesia is administered to ensure patient comfort.

Layer-by-Layer Removal

The surgeon removes a thin layer of tissue from the affected area. This layer is immediately processed and examined under a microscope to check for cancer cells.

Microscopic Examination

The excised tissue is divided into sections and mapped. Each section is examined under a microscope to identify any remaining cancer cells. If cancer cells are detected, their precise location is noted on the map.

Subsequent Layers

If cancer cells are found, the surgeon removes another thin layer of tissue from the specific area where cancer cells were detected. This process is repeated until no cancer cells are found in the tissue samples.

Wound Repair

Once the cancer is entirely removed, the surgeon assesses the wound and decides the best method for repair. Options may include letting the wound heal naturally, stitching it closed, or using a skin graft or flap.

Advantages of Mohs Surgery

Mohs surgery offers several advantages over traditional surgical methods:

High Cure Rates

Because the technique involves the systematic examination of tissue layers, it boasts cure rates of up to 99% for primary BCC and SCC, and up to 94% for recurrent BCC and SCC.

Tissue Preservation

By removing only the cancerous tissue and sparing as much healthy tissue as possible, Mohs surgery minimizes scarring and preserves the function and appearance of the affected area. This is particularly important for cancers on the face and other cosmetically sensitive areas.

Comprehensive Cancer Removal

The meticulous nature of the procedure ensures that all cancer cells are removed, reducing the likelihood of recurrence.

Immediate Results

The examination of tissue layers is done on-site, allowing for immediate results and ensuring that all cancer cells are removed during the same appointment.

Potential Risks and Complications

Like any surgical procedure, Mohs surgery carries some risks and potential complications:

  • Bleeding and Infection: As with any surgery, there is a risk of bleeding and infection. However, these risks are generally low with Mohs surgery.
  • Scarring: While Mohs surgery aims to minimize scarring, some degree of scarring is inevitable. The extent of scarring depends on the size and location of the tumor, as well as the patient's healing process.
  • Nerve Damage: In rare cases, nerve damage can occur, especially if the tumor is located near nerves.
  • Recurrence: Although the cure rates are high, there is still a small chance that the cancer may recur.

Recovery and Aftercare

Recovery from Mohs surgery varies depending on the size and location of the tumor, as well as the method of wound repair:

  • Immediate Post-Operative Care: The surgical site will be covered with a bandage, and patients are typically advised to keep the area clean and dry. Pain, swelling, and bruising are common and can be managed with over-the-counter pain relievers.
  • Follow-Up Visits: Patients usually have follow-up visits to monitor the healing process and remove any stitches if necessary.
  • Long-Term Care: Patients are advised to protect the treated area from the sun and to perform regular skin self-examinations to detect any new or recurring skin cancers.

Mohs Surgery and Skin Cancer Prevention

While Mohs surgery is highly effective at treating existing skin cancers, prevention remains key. Here are some tips for reducing the risk of developing skin cancer:

  • Sun Protection: Use broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher, wear protective clothing, and seek shade during peak sun hours.
  • Avoid Tanning Beds: Tanning beds emit harmful UV radiation that increases the risk of skin cancer.
  • Regular Skin Examinations: Perform monthly self-examinations and schedule annual check-ups with a dermatologist to detect any suspicious changes early.

Case Studies and Success Stories

Numerous case studies and patient stories highlight the success of Mohs surgery. For instance, a patient with a recurrent basal cell carcinoma on the nose underwent Mohs surgery, which successfully removed the cancer while preserving the nasal structure. Another patient with an aggressive squamous cell carcinoma near the eye benefited from the precision of Mohs surgery, which eradicated the cancer without compromising vision.

Future Directions and Innovations

The field of Mohs surgery continues to evolve with advancements in technology and techniques:

  • Imaging Technologies: New imaging technologies, such as reflectance confocal microscopy, are being explored to enhance the accuracy of tissue examination during Mohs surgery.
  • Training and Education: Ongoing training and education for dermatologic surgeons ensure the highest standards of care and continual improvement in surgical outcomes.
  • Patient-Centered Approaches: Incorporating patient feedback and preferences into the surgical planning process to improve overall patient satisfaction and outcomes.

Mohs surgery stands as a testament to the advancements in medical science, providing a highly effective and tissue-sparing option for skin cancer treatment. Whether considering its history, procedural intricacies, or future innovations, the breadth and depth of Mohs surgery offer a compelling glimpse into the ongoing battle against skin cancer.

Related Questions

What is gender affirming surgery?

Gender affirming surgery, also known as gender confirmation surgery or sex reassignment surgery, refers to a variety of surgical procedures that align an individual's physical appearance with their identified gender. These surgeries can significantly improve the quality of life for transgender and non-binary individuals by alleviating gender dysphoria and promoting mental and emotional well-being.

Ask Hotbot: What is gender affirming surgery?

What is gastric bypass surgery?

Gastric bypass surgery, a type of bariatric surgery, is a medical procedure designed to help individuals with severe obesity achieve significant weight loss. This procedure involves altering the digestive system to limit food intake and nutrient absorption, promoting weight loss and improving obesity-related health conditions.

Ask Hotbot: What is gastric bypass surgery?

What is bariatric surgery?

Bariatric surgery, often referred to as weight-loss surgery, involves various procedures performed on individuals who are severely obese. The primary aim is to induce weight loss by modifying the digestive system. These surgeries are typically considered when diet and exercise haven't been effective and the patient's weight poses serious health risks.

Ask Hotbot: What is bariatric surgery?

What is laparoscopic surgery?

Laparoscopic surgery, often referred to as minimally invasive surgery (MIS), is a modern surgical technique wherein operations in the abdomen are performed through small incisions. This technique employs the use of a laparoscope, a long, thin tube with a high-intensity light and a high-resolution camera at the front. This camera sends images to a monitor, allowing the surgeon to see inside the patient's body without making large incisions.

Ask Hotbot: What is laparoscopic surgery?