New skin cancer treatment for Illawarra patients

Sep 29, 2020

A unique treatment designed to remove skin cancers from delicate and difficult areas, where pathology specimens are viewed under a microscope in ‘real time’ to show the area is cancer-free, is now available through Integrated Specialist Healthcare in Wollongong.

Mohs surgery is a combination of dermatology and pathology, where a dermatologist removes the skin cancer in stages, using a microscope to examine the tissue for cancer cells as they go. Layers of skin are removed and examined until there are no more cancer cells present.    

Named after the surgeon who developed it, Frederic E. Mohs, the surgery has been described as a ‘game changer’ for skin cancer treatment by dermatologists, due to the use of ‘real time’ pathology and because patients find out then and there the cancer has been removed, rather than waiting for results.  

The treatment aims to completely remove cancerous cells, which allows for the highest cure rate. The procedure also aims to preserve as much healthy tissue as possible. 

Australia’s skin cancer rate is among the highest in the world, and accounts for around 80% of newly diagnosed cancers each year.  

Plastic surgeon, Professor Anand Deva, said skin cancers are often found on delicate areas of the body, such as lips, eyelids, fingers and ears, so care must be taken to preserve the healthy tissue and minimise scaring, whilst still removing all the cancer. 

“The roots of the skin cancer may extend beyond the visible portion of the tumour. If the roots are not removed, the cancer could recur,” said Prof Deva.  

The procedure is done under local anaesthetic and patients wait while the specialist analyses the removed tissue. The steps are repeated until the cancer has been removed. This can take several hours in complex cases. Patients get their results on the day, meaning they don’t have an anxious wait to discover if their cancer is gone.   

“This is the only skin cancer removal where cancerous tissue is examined in real time,” said Prof Deva.  

“The reconstruction is as important as the removal of the cancer, especially on the face. The Mohs technique is designed to allow a precise removal of the cancer, which is important because every millimetre of tissue you lose on the face makes a difference.”  

Local patients have previously travelled to Sydney or Miranda for this treatment. 

Consultation for Mohs surgery is at Integrated Specialist Healthcare, which is newly located at Figtree Private Hospital. The procedure takes place at nearby Wollongong Private Hospital. 

The Integrated Specialist Healthcare model brings together general practice and specialist care to provide patients with on the spot access to all aspects of care.  

Ramsay Health Care, in partnership with the Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District and NSW Ministry of Health established the Integrated Care Centre at Figtree Private Hospital. This clinic specialises in skin cancer treatment.  

Wollongong and Figtree Private Hospital CEO, David Crowe, said patients were now able to access a greater range of out-patient services closer to home. 

“Integrated Specialist Healthcare connects patients with GPs, specialists and surgeons under one roof. This type of service means patients can have a skin cancer check and follow-up at the same place with specialised surgery performed nearby,” Mr Crowe said.