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Whidbey Island skin patients benefit from Mohs surgeon

Dr. Duane Whitaker performs Mohs surgery, an advanced technique for treating skin cancer, on patient Genevieve Martin at Family Dermatology in Coupeville Tuesday. He was assisted by registered medical assistant Ellen Doll.  - Jessie Stensland / Whidbey News-Times
Dr. Duane Whitaker performs Mohs surgery, an advanced technique for treating skin cancer, on patient Genevieve Martin at Family Dermatology in Coupeville Tuesday. He was assisted by registered medical assistant Ellen Doll.
— image credit: Jessie Stensland / Whidbey News-Times

In what may be a first in Whidbey Island history, a doctor performed Mohs surgery on a series of patients Tuesday.

Dr. Duane Whitaker was the man behind the surgical mask. He is a national expert in the surgical technique that’s considered the most effective and advanced treatment for skin cancer. He recently joined the team at the Family Dermatology in Coupeville.

“Now people with skin cancer won’t have to go off the island for the most effective treatment,” Physician Assistant Reese Bliek said.

Bliek has brought together some of the best medical professionals from all over the region — including two dermatologists and a vascular surgeon — to see patients at the clinic. He opened Family Dermatology in October to replace the dermatology clinic that was abruptly closed.

Bliek’s latest coup was coaxing Whitaker to Coupeville. Whitaker has been performing Mohs surgery for more than 30 years. He was formerly a professor and the director of Dermatologic Surgery at the University of Iowa, where he taught Mohs surgery. He served as president of the American College of Mohs Surgery.

Whitaker eventually moved to Bainbridge Island. He works at offices in both Bainbridge and Silverdale. And now he’s coming to Coupeville to do surgeries once a month.

“He’s a top dog,” Bliek said. “We’re really fortunate to have him.”

Whitaker explained the benefits of Mohs surgery as he stitched up a patient’s neck Tuesday afternoon.

“It has the very highest cure rate with the preservation of the most possible amount of the surrounding tissue,” he said.

The cure rate for “primary cases,” he said, is more than 95 percent.

Whitaker explained that the technique allows him to remove a patient’s skin cancer layer by layer. Each layer is “processed” and examined under a microscope until only cancer-free tissue remains. The unique thing about the Mohs technique, he said, is a surgeon’s ability to immediately read the slides and quickly determine if the cancer has been completely removed.

Once the cancer is gone, Whitaker immediately repairs the site. The whole process is done under local anesthesia and usually takes just a couple of hours.

“It’s far more pleasant than having a tooth drilled,” Whitaker said.

Family Dermatology is located at 205 S. Main St. in Coupeville. It can be reached at 360-682-5024.

 

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