Mohs Surgery: 5 Things to Know Before You Go

The Skin Cancer Foundation

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Mohs surgery gives you the highest cure rate and lowest recurrence rate of any skin cancer treatment. The procedure is considered the most effective for treating many basal cell carcinomas (BCCs) and squamous cell carcinomas (SCCs), the two most common types of skin cancer. Some surgeons are also successfully using Mohs surgery on certain cases of melanoma.

The surgery is done in stages, including lab work, while you wait. This allows the removal of all cancerous cells for the highest cure rate while sparing healthy tissue and leaving the smallest possible scar.

If you are having Mohs surgery, here are some things to keep in mind before your procedure:

Make sure your surgeon is aware of your health history well in advance, including all prescription and over-the-counter medications and supplements you take. You may need to stop or start a medication prior to surgery based on your existing conditions.
Ask your doctor about post-op care before the day of your appointment. In some cases, you may need help getting home, or shouldn’t risk brand-new stitches taking stairs. Also, you can be prepared with any supplies you may need at home following the procedure. No one wants to run to the store for gauze or ointment after having surgery.
Be ready to wait. Because Mohs surgery is done in stages, including the on-site lab work, you should clear your schedule the day of your procedure. There is just no way to tell in advance how long it will take. You’ll be waiting in the office a minimum of an hour or two, but longer if your first stage isn’t clear of cancerous cells. Bring a phone charger, snacks, water and something to entertain yourself, like a book.
Understand that you may experience side effects. Some wounds, especially on the face and scalp, may bleed a little during surgery, and you may have bruises or swelling afterward. Lidocaine, the standard local anesthetic used by Mohs surgeons, may cause a bit of redness, irritation or swelling at the injection site. Some patients, especially if the surgery has several stages and additional injections, may notice a rapid heartbeat, or feel shaky or lightheaded.
Before leaving the office, make sure you know about wound care and who to contact (and how) if you have concerns or issues outside of office hours. Knowing the right steps to take will help you relax and give you peace of mind.

Additional resources:

More detailed information about Mohs surgery.
Do’s and donts for skin cancer patients.
Skin cancer support resources.

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