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How is Mohs surgery used to treat skin cancer?

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Quick Answer

During Mohs micrographic surgery, a surgeon removes the visible cancer tumor and thin layers of surrounding skin tissue in progressive steps, examining each sample for the presence of cancer cells until a cancer-free tissue sample is achieved, explains Mayo Clinic. The outpatient procedure typically lasts four hours and is performed under local anesthesia in a facility with access to a laboratory.

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As of 2015, Mohs surgery is the preferred method of treatment for removing squamous cell and basal cell carcinomas, enjoying a cure rate of over 98 percent, reports The Skin Cancer Foundation. Thanks to the use of special stains that make identifying melanoma cells easier, surgeons are increasingly using the Mohs technique to treat certain melanomas.

Mohs surgery is well suited for cancers located on the head, face, hands, feet and genitals because it allows the surgeon to preserve the surrounding healthy tissue, explains Mayo Clinic. It is especially effective for treating recurring, large and aggressive cancers, and those with hard-to-define borders. Because surgeons can verify the removal of all cancer cells at the time of surgery, cure rates are increased and the likelihood that more surgery is required is reduced.

Depending on the number of incisions and size of the remaining wound, the surgeon may stitch it closed, allow it to heal on its own, or use a skin flap or skin graft to cover the area, notes Mayo Clinic. If the skin removal was extensive, reconstructive surgery may be required.

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