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Learning About Mohs Surgery for Skin Cancer

Two types of skin cancer

What is Mohs surgery?

Mohs surgery removes a skin cancer one layer at a time. With a microscope, the doctor checks each layer for cancer cells until no more cancer is found.

This method lets the doctor save as much healthy tissue as possible.

This surgery is mostly used for areas of skin you can see or where scarring is a bigger concern, such as on the ears, nose, or eyelids.

It is also used for skin cancer that is likely to return, is growing fast, or has a high risk of spreading.

How is the surgery done?

You will be awake during the surgery. Your doctor will give you medicine (local anesthetic) to numb the area so you won't feel pain. When the skin is numb, your doctor will start to remove the cancer and a small amount of healthy tissue.

Each layer of tissue is checked right away under a microscope. If cancer is found, your doctor carefully selects more tissue. This tissue is removed and checked. Layers are removed until no more cancer is found.

How long does the surgery take?

The procedure may take a few hours or could take a full day.

What can you expect after the surgery?

As with any skin surgery, you will have some scarring. If your wound is large, your doctor may need to take a piece of healthy skin from another part of your body. This is called a skin graft, and it helps to fix the wound that is left after the cancer is removed. Or, your doctor may use the remaining surrounding skin to cover over the wound. This is a called a skin flap. In other cases, you doctor may recommend that the wound heal on its own.

You should be able to return to your normal routine on the same day or the day after the surgery. But your doctor may ask you to limit activity until your follow-up appointment in 1 to 2 weeks. Some soreness, swelling, or bruising is normal.

Your doctor may recommend over-the-counter or prescription medicines to help with pain. Most wounds take 1 to 3 weeks to heal.

You may have stitches that will be removed in a week or two. If you have the type of stitches that dissolve, they don't have to be removed. They will disappear on their own.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

For more information on skin cancer, visit Cancer Care Alberta.

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