If you have been diagnosed with skin cancer, please feel free to contact us to schedule an appointment for surgery with Dr. Bellew.
What is Mohs Surgery?
Mohs surgery is a precise surgical technique used to treat skin cancer. During Mohs surgery, thin layers of cancer-containing skin are progressively removed and examined until only cancer-free tissue remains. Mohs surgery is also known as Mohs micrographic surgery.
The goal of Mohs surgery is to remove as much of the skin cancer as possible, while doing minimal damage to surrounding healthy tissue. Mohs surgery is usually done on an outpatient basis using a local anesthetic.
Mohs surgery is an improvement to standard surgery (local excision), which involves removing the visible cancer and a small margin of surrounding healthy tissue all at once. Mohs surgery allows surgeons to verify that all cancer cells have been removed at the time of surgery. This increases the chance of a cure and reduces the need for additional treatments or additional surgery.
Mohs surgery is especially useful for skin cancers that:
- Have a high risk of recurrence or that have recurred after previous treatment
- Are located in areas where you want to preserve as much healthy tissue as possible, such as around the eyes, ears, nose, mouth, hands, feet and genitals
- Have borders that are hard to define
- Are large or aggressive
During the procedure
Once the anesthetic has taken effect, your surgeon uses a scalpel to remove the visible portion of the cancer along with a thin, underlying layer of tissue that’s slightly larger than the visible tumor. A temporary bandage is placed on your incision. This takes only a few minutes.
The surgeon then takes this tissue to the laboratory for analysis. This portion of the procedure typically takes the longest amount of time.
Expect to wait about an hour or so in a waiting room for the surgeon to return. It may help to bring a book or magazine to pass the time. You’ll be able to use the restroom or have a snack, if you need to, but you won’t be able to leave the surgeon’s office until the procedure is complete.
While you’re waiting, the surgeon or technician cuts the tissue sample into sections and examines them with a microscope. Your surgeon takes great care to keep track of the exact spot where each piece of tissue was removed by making a map. That way, if a small area of cancer is found in one piece of tissue, the surgeon knows precisely where to continue with the surgery.
If cancer remains, your Mohs surgery will continue. Your surgeon removes an additional layer of tissue from the affected area, taking care to remove tissue that contains cancer while leaving as much healthy tissue as possible intact. Again, you’ll wait while the surgeon examines the tissue in the laboratory.
The process is repeated until the last tissue sample removed is cancer-free. Local anesthetic can be re-administered as necessary.
After the procedure
After all of the cancer has been removed, you and your surgeon can decide on how to repair the wound. Depending on the extent of the operation, this might include:
- Letting the wound heal on its own (healing by second intention)
- Using stitches to close the wound (primary closure)
- Shifting skin from an adjacent area (skin flap) to cover the wound
- Using a skin graft from another part of the body, such as behind the ear, to cover the wound
If the surgical area is extensive or complex, your surgeon may temporarily close your wound and then refer you to another surgeon for reconstructive surgery to repair the wound.
One of the advantages of Mohs surgery is that you know your results right away, and you usually don’t leave your appointment until all of the skin cancer has been removed. You may have a follow-up visit with your surgeon or referring doctor to monitor your recovery to make sure your wound is healing properly.