New surgical program gives patients access to gold standard treatment for skin cancer

One of only 13 in Canada, a new Mohs micrographic surgery program has opened at Hotel Dieu Hospital, giving patients in our region access to the gold standard treatment for complex non-melanoma skin cancers. 

Mohs surgery is largely used to treat the two most common skin cancers—basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas—and is especially useful for cancers that are large and aggressive, are likely to recur, have poorly defined borders and are located in sensitive areas of the body where it is essential to preserve as much healthy tissue as possible (e.g., head, face, neck).

Performed on an outpatient basis under local anesthetic, the Mohs technique is extremely precise.  The surgeon slices away thin layers of cancer-containing skin and immediately examines the tissue under a microscope.  The tumour is progressively pared away, with the surgeon removing the minimum amount of tissue required to ensure disease-free surgical edges.  When the area is clear, the surgeon repairs the wound in a manner that achieves the best cosmetic result.

“While the procedure can translate into a long day for the patient,” says Mohs surgeon Dr. Benvon Moran, “it has the benefit of allowing you to verify that the margins are clear at the time of surgery, which increases the chance of a cure and reduces the need for further surgery.  The patient leaves knowing the cancer is gone and healthy skin has been preserved as much as possible.”

Mohs surgery has an excellent cure rate—99 per cent for basal cell cancers and 97 per cent for squamous cell carcinomas.  The new clinic at Hotel Dieu—which includes three procedure rooms and a dedicated laboratory—has the capacity to perform up to 15 procedures per week.

“With the incidence of skin cancer rising, it’s vital to provide patients with the very best treatment options.  Mohs therapy is one of the most advanced techniques available for removing and reconstructing areas of skin cancer,” says Dr. Michael Fitzpatrick, Hotel Dieu Chief of Medical & Academic Affairs/Chief of Staff. 

“Providing this service, which is unique to our region, means patients have timely access to highly specialized care closer to home,” says Brenda Carter, Regional Vice-President of the Cancer Centre of Southeastern Ontario at Kingston General Hospital. “Mohs is the kind of high-quality therapy our patients expect and need.”

The Mohs surgery program expands the new Division of Dermatology launched last year by the Department of Medicine at Queen’s University.  The Division’s team of three dermatologists now provides advanced dermatologic care in specialized clinics at Hotel Dieu Hospital and the Cancer Centre of Southeastern Ontario.

“We’re committed to building a comprehensive dermatology program and the Mohs component is a crucial building block,” says Department Head Dr. Stephen Archer.  “It will make a huge difference for people with skin cancer in this region, and it will further strengthen our Division as we work to enhance excellence in dermatologic clinical care, teaching and research.”

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