What to Expect After Mohs Surgery

By

Hedy Marks, MPH

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Doctor Discussing Patient Care

Facing surgery to remove skin cancer can be a little alarming. Even though Mohs surgery is highly effective, knowing what to expect after Mohs surgery can help ease your anxiety before the procedure and get you back to your everyday activities sooner.

Immediately After Mohs Surgery

During Mohs surgery, your doctor will remove the amount of tissue necessary to ensure all the cancerous cells are removed. The size of your wound will depend on how much tissue the surgeon removes. Your doctor may leave a small wound open to heal on its own, or may close the wound with stitches. Reconstructive surgery may be necessary to repair larger wounds. This may occur the same day as your Mohs surgery or be scheduled for another time.

After surgery, your doctor will apply a bulky gauze bandage to dress the wound. Be sure to keep the dressing clean and undisturbed.

You will likely go home the same day of surgery. Have a friend or family member drive you home after the procedure in case your care team gives you sedative medicine.

Long-Term Recovery and Restrictions

Recovery after surgery is a gradual process. Recovery time varies depending on the extent of surgery, your general health, age, and other factors. 

Most people are able to return to work the day after Mohs surgery. Even though Mohs surgery spares as much healthy tissue as possible, it may take 4 to 6 weeks for the wound to completely heal. The doctor usually removes the sutures 5 to 10 days after surgery.

You may have mild discomfort as you heal. Your doctor will treat your pain so you are comfortable. Call your doctor if your pain gets worse or changes.

You may have mild swelling and bruising around the affected area. Minimal bleeding or oozing at the incision site may also occur. Follow your doctor’s instructions on how to care for your wound. Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly.

It’s a good idea to avoid strenuous activity and exercise for 1 to 2 weeks following surgery, or as recommended by your doctor.

Will Mohs Surgery Leave a Scar?

All types of surgical skin cancer removal techniques cause some scarring. Mohs surgery is particularly beneficial for the face and other high-visibility areas because it leaves more healthy tissue intact compared to other skin cancer removal techniques like a simple excision with a small blade. The size of your scar depends on the size of the cancer and how deeply it extends into the skin. 

If you are anxious about scarring, talk to your dermatologist well in advance of surgery. Take the time to discuss your options, including whether or not you will need more advanced reconstructive surgery to repair the wound. You can also explore the possibility of having a plastic surgeon close the wound after the surgery.

Call Your Doctor

Complications associated with Mohs surgery are uncommon. Call your doctor if you have:

  • Bleeding
  • Fever
  • Increase in pain
  • Unexpected drainage, pus, redness or swelling of your incision

It is important to keep your follow-up appointments after Mohs surgery. Also, see your doctor regularly to be checked for new skin cancer.

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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Feb 25, 2016

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Medical References

  1. Reconstructive and Post-Operative Care. American College of Mohs Surgery. http://www.skincancermohssurgery.org/mohs-surgery/post-op-care.php
  2. The Mohs Procedure. American College of Mohs Surgery. http://www.skincancermohssurgery.org/mohs-surgery/mohs-procedure.php
  3. Complications of Mohs Surgery. Lahey Hospital and Medical Center. http://www.lahey.org/Departments_and_Locations/Departments/Dermatology/Mohs_Surgery/Complications_of...
  4. Mohs Micrographic Surgery. UCSF Medical Center. http://www.ucsfhealth.org/treatments/mohs_micrographic_surgery/
  5. Recovering from Mohs Surgery. SLUCare. http://www.slu.edu/dermatology-home/mohs-surgery/post-surgical-information
  6. Patient FAQs. American Society for Mohs Surgery. http://www.mohssurgery.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=3313

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