Predictable tissue shrinkage during frozen section histopathologic processing for Mohs micrographic surgery

Dermatol Surg. 2001 Sep;27(9):813-8. doi: 10.1046/j.1524-4725.2001.01017.x.


Background: When confronted with a histologic specimen that is appreciably smaller than the same tissue specimen immediately after acquisition, the Mohs surgeon is faced with two possibilities, namely that the tissue has either shrunken during laboratory processing or that the histologic specimen is incomplete due to the introduction of technical errors during embedding, cutting, or staining of the skin specimen. Because the entire objective of Mohs micrographic surgery is to precisely examine the entire surgical margin of skin specimens, the surgeon must be able to determine that any size discrepancies introduced during laboratory processing are not related to incomplete surgical specimens. Although there are anecdotal suggestions that skin, like other human tissues, undergoes some degree of shrinkage during routine frozen section processing, the exact nature and magnitude of this phenomenon has not been previously investigated.

Objective: To quantify the degree of tissue shrinkage in Mohs micrographic surgical specimens processed with routine frozen sections and subsequent hematoxylin and eosin staining.

Methods: A total of 117 Mohs surgery patients (135 cutaneous tumors) were prospectively enrolled. The dimensions of initial stage surgical specimens were determined after removal from the patient, after freezing in a mounting medium, after placement on a glass microscopic slide, and after hematoxylin and eosin staining. Statistical analyses were performed in order to determine the significance of any discrepancies in specimen sizes introduced during laboratory processing.

Results: Skin specimens processed by frozen section techniques during Mohs micrographic surgery undergo statistically significant alterations in length. On average the measurements of specimens at the conclusion of histologic processing were 11.6% shorter than the measurements of the same specimens obtained immediately after surgical excision. Tissue specimens obtained from the trunk or extremities showed a greater degree of tissue shrinkage (16.3%) than specimens obtained from the head and neck (10.2%).

Conclusions: Our results support anecdotal suggestions that skin specimens do indeed shrink during frozen section processing. By realizing that frozen section specimens can be expected to show some slight degree of shrinkage, the Mohs surgeon can appreciate situations that might allow greater confidence that a smaller specimen is nonetheless representative of the entire lateral and deep surgical margins.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Artifacts
  • Female
  • Frozen Sections*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mohs Surgery*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Skin / pathology
  • Skin Neoplasms / pathology
  • Skin Neoplasms / surgery*