Mohs Surgery

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This effective, precise procedure removes skin cancer from the face and other sensitive areas, layer by layer. The tissue is examined under a microscope until only healthy tissue remains.

This surgery is most often used to treat basal and squamous cell carcinomas and other more rare skin cancers that:

  • Were previously treated and came back
  • Occur near scar tissue
  • Are large
  • Have poorly-defined edges
  • Are growing rapidly

Mohs surgery offers a good chance for complete removal of the cancer, while sparing normal tissue.

Mohs Surgery Risks

Possible complications may include:

  • Bleeding
  • Scarring
  • Reaction to the local anesthesia
  • Infection
  • Damage to nerve endings (temporary or permanent numbness or weakness)
  • Itching or shooting-pain sensations

What to Expect from Mohs Surgery

Before the Procedure

In the time leading up to the procedure:

  • Discuss with your doctor any allergies or medical problems that you have.
  • Talk to your doctor if you take any medications, herbs or supplements. You may need to stop taking some medications up to 1 week before the procedure.
  • Arrange for a ride home and for help at home.
  • Eat normally the day of the procedure.

About the Procedure 

Mohs surgery happens:

  • Using local anesthesia 
  • While you're awake 
  • For several hours

You'll be able to go home after the procedure.

During Mohs Surgery

Using a small scalpel, the top visible portion of the cancer will be removed. Next, another, deeper layer will be removed. The layer will be divided into sections. Each section will be color coded. This will allow the doctor to know exactly where the layer was in the skin.

These sections will be frozen and examined under a microscope for remaining cancer cells. If cancer is found at the edges of the removed layer, the doctor will go back to the precise section. Additional layers will be removed until all areas are cancer free. For larger wound areas, the wound will be closed with stitches, a skin flap, or a skin graft procedure. Small, shallow wounds may heal without stitches.

Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.