–submitted by Rich Leffler; photo by Loretta Himmelsbach
As a three-time beneficiary of the Mohs surgical procedure at the Mohs Clinic of UW Hospital, this reporter was especially interested to hear Fred Mohs talk about his father, Dr. Frederic Mohs, Sr. Born in 1910, Dr. Mohs was a medical pioneer. Although he intended to be a radio engineer when radio was the popular technological rage, he got a college job at Birge Hall at the UW. A prominent cancer researcher introduced Dr. Mohs to the work being done in the 1930s on cancer: what exactly was it and how could it be treated? His mentor changed the trajectory of young Fred’s career. He went to medical school.
Dr. Mohs was an admirer of Thomas A. Edison, and he used Edison’s technique of intensive experimentation until he found that zinc chloride in a paste could kill cancer cells while still preserving cellular structure. Much of Dr. Mohs’s work was funded by WARF’s first research grants. He applied this compound to tumors of the skin to kill the cancer, while allowing a pathologist to determine whether the cells on the periphery were cancerous or normal. Very large and invasive tumors, which other surgeons were unable to excise, were now susceptible to treatment.
Dr. Mohs early-on learned the difficulty of communicating medical science to the general public. An interview with the Wisconsin State Journal about his technique resulted in a headline: “Cancer Cure Discovered.” Colleagues were outraged. His license to practice medicine was threatened. Eventually, especially after Dr. Mohs successfully treated a prominent Madison physician for a very large neck tumor, the value of the Mohs procedure was generally recognized.
Today, the Mohs procedure is widely used. In combination with an onsite pathologist, and working closely with plastic surgeons when needed, Mohs clinics allow surgeons to remove skin cancer with a minimally invasive and disfiguring procedure. Thank you Dr. Mohs, and thanks to Fred for telling us the story.
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