The incidence of nonmelanoma skin cancer (NMSC) is steadily increasing, and it accounts for more annual cancer diagnoses than all other malignancies combined.1,2 For NMSCs of the head and neck, Mohs micrographic surgery (MMS) has become a preferred technique because of its high cure rates, intraprocedural margin control, and improved tissue preservation in cosmetically sensitive areas.3 The nose and ears are especially sensitive anatomic locations given their prominent positions and relative lack of skin reservoir and laxity compared to other areas of the head and neck. For the nose and ears, both patients and referring providers may question who is best suited to surgically remove a malignancy and repair the defect with positive functional and cosmetic results, as a large portion of the defects following tumor extirpation will require a flap or graft for repair.
The notion of plastic surgery is strongly associated with supreme cosmesis for many patients and providers, as the specialty trains in several surgical and nonsurgical elective techniques to preserve and improve appearance. Consequently, patients commonly ask dermatologists if they should be referred to a plastic surgeon for skin cancer removal in cosmetically sensitive areas, especially areas that may require more complex surgical repairs. However, recent Medicare data indicate that dermatologists perform the vast majority of reconstructive skin surgeries, with more than 15 times the number of intermediate and complex closures and more than 4 times the number of flaps and grafts as the next closest specialty.4 Earlier studies using Medicare data revealed similar findings, with dermatologic surgeons performing more reconstructions of head and neck skin than both plastic surgeons and otorhinolaryngologists.5 However, these studies did not address the characteristics of the tumor, defects, or repairs performed by the specialties for comparison.
We sought to compare the quantity and characteristics of flaps or grafts performed for skin cancer on the nose or ears by fellowship-trained Mohs surgeons and plastic surgeons at 1 academic institution.
We performed a retrospective chart review of all skin cancer surgeries requiring a flap or graft on the nose or ears at Baylor Scott & White Health (Temple, Texas) from October 1, 2016, to October 1, 2017. This study was approved by the Baylor Scott & White Health institutional review board.
The analysis included full-time, fellowship-trained Mohs surgeons and all full-time plastic surgeons who accepted skin cancer surgery patient referrals as part of their practice and performed all procedures within our hospital system. We reviewed individual provider schedules for both outpatient consultation and operating room notes to capture each procedure performed. To ensure we captured all procedures for both Mohs and plastic surgeons, we used billing codes for any flap or graft repair done on the nose or ears to cross-reference and confirm the cases found by chart review. The total number of flaps or grafts on the nose or ears were collected. Data also were collected regarding the anatomic location of the skin cancer, final defect size prior to the repair, skin tumor type, repair type (flap or graft), and flap (transposition vs advancement) or graft (full thickness vs partial thickness) type. All surgical data were collected from operative notes. Demographic data, including age, race, and sex, also were collected. We also collected data on the specialty of the physicians who referred patients for surgical management of biopsy-proven skin malignancy.