Mohs Surgery: Is It Right for Me?

Receiving a diagnosis of skin cancer can be frightening, but it’s critical to remember skin cancer has a high cure rate with early detection. Understanding your diagnosis and the treatment options available to you can help you become a more informed patient.  

Types of Skin Cancer

According to the American Cancer Foundation, more people are diagnosed with skin cancer each year in the U.S. than all other cancers combined. The two most common forms of skin cancer are basal cell and squamous cell. While these two cancers are typically benign, they can cause health problems if left untreated. 

Basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers are typically considered “low-risk” forms of cancer because the affected cells cluster in a contained area, which makes them easier to treat. Melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, accounts for only a fraction of skin cancer diagnoses, but the number of new melanoma cases diagnosed annually is on the rise. 

Understanding Mohs Surgery

Mohs surgery, a highly specialized surgical technique, is the gold standard of skin cancer surgeries. Mohs surgery has proven successful at removing basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas, and can sometimes also eradicate melanoma.

During Mohs surgery, Dr. Seth Matarasso systematically removes thin layers of cancer-containing skin and examines each one under a microscope until he can verify that only cancer-free tissue remains. Mohs surgery is also known as Mohs micrographic surgery and is named after Dr. Frederic Mohs, who pioneered the procedure in the 1930s.

In contrast to standard skin cancer surgery, which involves removing the visible cancer in addition to a small fringe of the surrounding healthy tissue, the goal of Mohs surgery is to affect the surrounding tissue as little as possible, while maximizing the amount of skin cancer that can be removed. 

Benefits of Mohs Surgery

Though skin cancer is treatable, it also has a high recurrence rate. Mohs surgery allows Dr. Matarasso to confirm that he has successfully removed all the cancer cells, thus increasing the chances of a cure and decreasing the risk that the cancer will return and necessitate additional surgeries. 

Mohs surgery also requires a smaller wound, which means a faster healing time with less prominent scarring. This technique is precise enough to remove skin cancer in areas such as the face and hands, where most patients prefer to reserve as much healthy tissue as possible.

Mohs surgery is especially useful for skin cancers that:

  • Have a high recurrence rate
  • Are large or invasive
  • Are located in sensitive areas
  • Have ill-defined borders

Ultimately, Mohs surgery is the most effective and the most aesthetically desirable cure for skin cancer. It is also more affordable than other techniques because most patients only require a single surgery to remove the tumor completely.

What to Expect During Mohs Surgery

In most cases, Mohs surgery only takes a few hours. However, Dr. Matarasso may advise you to clear your schedule for the entire day, since it can often be challenging to assess how extensive a tumor is by looking at it on the surface level. It’s normal to have some waiting time during your surgery, so bring a book or some other form of entertainment to pass the time.

Mohs surgery takes place on an outpatient basis. Dr. Matarasso will use a local anesthetic to numb the area so you do not feel any pain during the procedure. Then, during the surgery, Dr. Matarasso will systematically remove the cancerous tissue layer by layer, stopping between each layer to analyze the tissue under a microscope. If this analysis determines there is additional cancer to remove, your surgery will continue until the final tissue sample removed is cancer-free. 

How to Find a Qualified Mohs Surgeon

Mohs surgery is demanding from a technical standpoint, so it’s important to find a surgeon with plenty of experience in this procedure. As part of his training, Bay Area dermatologist Dr. Seth Matarasso completed a fellowship in Mohs surgery at the University of California School of Medicine in San Francisco.

If you think you may have skin cancer, time is of the essence in ensuring you make a full recovery. Contact our office immediately to schedule a full-body examination and skin cancer screening. If Dr. Matarasso diagnoses you with skin cancer and determines you are a good candidate for the innovative Mohs surgery, we will discuss your next steps for eradicating your cancer and helping ensure your peace of mind.