In the United States alone, over 5 million cases of skin cancer are diagnosed each year. This figure outpaces the diagnosis of all other cancers combined, and means that on average, one of every five Americans will develop some form of skin cancer by the age of 70. There are several types of skin cancer, with varying levels of risk and the potential for life-threatening complications, including death. Luckily, a powerful tool exists that skilled dermatologists can employ, saving thousands of peoples’ lives each year and enjoying a success rate of 98% or higher. This tool is known as Mohs micrographic surgery, often referred to simply as “Mohs surgery”.
Common Types of Skin Cancers
There are several forms of skin cancer, but the two most-commonly diagnosed in the U.S. are Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC) and Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC). These are both nonmelanoma skin cancers. Approximately 90% of all skin cancers diagnosed are associated with exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet light. Together, these two common nonmelanoma skin cancers are responsible for upwards of 18,000 deaths each year.
Less common, but potentially more deadly, are the melanoma skin cancers, which are skin cancers that develop from moles on the skin or resemble moles. This form of skin cancer can invade underlying tissues, and is estimated to cause nearly 10,000 deaths in the U.S. annually.
What is Mohs Surgery?
Mohs micrographic surgery was developed in 1938 by Frederic Mohs, a general surgeon. Since those early days, it has become the leading surgical treatment of skin cancers, boasting a high success rate and minimal healthy tissue loss.
For primary basal cell carcinoma (BCC), the cure rate with Mohs surgery is between 97%-99.8%. Recurrent squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) has a cure rate of 94%. For melanoma skin cancers, the cure rate can be lower, but is still more successful than many other treatment protocols. Depending on the type and severity of melanomas, the cure rate ranges from over 50% to nearly 98%, with the average around 77%.
Mohs surgery consists of careful tissue removal with the help of a microscope and real-time laboratory analysis of removed tissue. After the patient’s skin surface is prepared and a local anesthetic given, the surgeon removes a thin layer of the affected area with a scalpel. The removed tissue is sent to a laboratory for analysis, and the patient’s wound is bandaged temporarily. The process is repeated until the laboratory tells the surgeon that all cancerous tissues have been removed. The wound is then stitched up or left open, depending on size, location, or configuration. The patient tends to recover more quickly, with swelling and tenderness disappearing after only a couple of days.
By carefully inspecting the margins of the affected area with a microscope, the surgeon can pinpoint cancerous tissue more accurately than in other surgical skin cancer interventions. Gaining real-time lab results also improves the patient outcome. The result is a smaller wound, less healthy tissue removal, and a great cure rate.
Visit Your Dermatologist Today
Millions of people across the United States will be affected by skin cancer at some point in their lives. If you or a loved one has an unusual area of the skin, it’s always a great idea to have it checked. Qualified dermatologists can screen the area for skin cancer, potentially identifying cancerous lesions before they can spread. With early intervention and the success rate of Mohs micrographic skin cancer surgery, dermatologists are saving thousands of lives each year.