Skin cancer is scary, but the removal process doesn’t have to be. If you’ve been diagnosed with basal or squamous cell skin cancers (about 3.5 million basal and squamous cell skin cancers are diagnosed annually), you may want to consider Mohs surgery.
Why is that? For starters, it has the highest cure rate (about 94 to 99 percent) of any treatment for squamous cell carcinoma. Additionally, “Moh’s surgery spares as much healthy skin as possible, instead of doing one stage and getting it all, but taking a lot of extra skin you didn’t need to take,” Jennifer Walker MD, dermatologist and Mohs surgeon at Group Health, explains.
What Mohs Surgery is Like
During the Mohs procedure your surgeon numbs the area of skin with local anesthesia. He or she then cuts around the skin cancer with a very narrow margin of healthy tissue.
Next, you get a temporary dressing, while the surgeon processes and examines the margins of the skin layer to look for cancer cells. This processing takes about 30 minutes, and during this time you can sit up, watch TV or visit with family and friends. If persistent tumor is found at the margins, the procedure is repeated until all the margins of the final sample examined are cancer-free.
“I can see the entire margin – both the wide margin and the deep margin – so I get 100 percent margin control,” Dr. Walker points out. “I’m able to see if there are any roots going wider or deeper and if there are, I touch up the numbing and take off just a little bit more, just where there’s skin cancer. I’m sparing all the healthy skin that I can.”
The average number of rounds is 1.3 or 1.4 (one or two skin layer removals); however, your surgeon will keep removing layers until the cancer is gone.
Do I Need Time off for Recovery?
If you work a desk job, you can get back to work the very next day, Dr. Walker says. She typically schedules appointments for 8 a.m. or 1 p.m. so expect to block a full morning or afternoon out for the procedure.
Depending on where the skin cancer was and how much skin was removed, you’ll have stiches in for one to two weeks, so you’ll be advised to avoid exercise or strenuous activities, like raking leaves or shoveling snow, during this time. Otherwise, you can do your normal, everyday activities.