How to Recognize an Infection After Skin Cancer Removal

Have you recently undergone skin cancer removal surgery and are currently experiencing discharge, redness, pain, and/or swelling? If so, you may have an infection.

This article will discuss how to recognize an infection after skin cancer removal, and when to seek professional treatment.

Mid adult man visiting his female dermatologist for his weekly skin treatment to reduce dryness and redness of the skin

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What to Expect After Skin Cancer Removal

Surgery is a common treatment option for skin cancer and is often performed in the dermatologist’s office. The type of surgery used depends on your type of skin cancer and how advanced it is. 

Your doctor will numb the area with a local anesthetic before surgery. Once this local numbing medicine wears off, it’s common to feel sore. You may also notice that the surgical site appears red and is draining a small amount of clear fluid. 

It is important to follow your dermatologist’s postoperative directions closely. You will receive instructions on how to clean your surgical site. You may also receive a topical medication to apply before covering the site with a bandage or gauze. 

Ask your dermatologist about any activity restrictions after surgery. You will want to avoid putting too much stress on your surgical site in order to protect it. 

Some questions to ask your dermatologist or surgeon about your recovery include:

  • How long will the wound take to heal?
  • How long should I keep the wound covered?
  • Do the stitches need to be removed?
  • What medication can I take for pain?
  • When should I follow-up?

Sutures would be removed from the face, where the majority of skin cancers occur, in five to seven days. If absorbable sutures are used, they will be gone in about the same amount of time.

Wound strength would be good in about three weeks. Scar maturation takes several months to a year.

Depending on the size of your incision, the wound could take weeks to months to completely heal. Ask your doctor about the risk of scarring and any preventive measures you can take. Keep your surgical wound covered, because ultraviolet (UV) rays can cause irregular color (pigment) and scarring. 

Signs of an Infection After Skin Cancer Removal

It is common to experience some soreness and redness after surgery. However, if your symptoms seem to be worsening rather than improving, it could be a sign of an infection. 

Signs of infection include:

  • Spreading redness and swelling
  • Colored or cloudy drainage
  • Pus drainage
  • Foul smell coming from the wound
  • Incision feels hot to the touch
  • Enlarged lymph nodes near the surgical site
  • Increasing pain
  • Fever or chills

Ways to Treat an Infection at Home

If you are concerned that you have developed an infection following skin cancer removal surgery, it’s best to consult your doctor. 

To care for your surgical wound at home, follow the surgeon’s instructions carefully. Make sure to clean the wound according to the recommended schedule and cover it with a new bandage or gauze. Always wash your hands thoroughly before touching your wound. 

When to Seek Professional Treatment for a Skin Cancer Removal Infection

It’s always best to talk with your doctor if you suspect that you have developed a new skin infection. Call your doctor right away if you develop a fever or if your surgical site has any of the following symptoms:

  • Increasing pain
  • Pus or cloudy liquid
  • Uncontrolled bleeding
  • An open wound that can’t be held together by stitches 

If your doctor diagnoses you with a bacterial infection, they will likely recommend antibiotics to treat it. Follow the prescription directions exactly, and continue taking the medication for the entire length of time recommended.

Most rounds of antibiotics are prescribed for seven to 10 days. Depending on how severe your infection is, your doctor may prescribe oral antibiotics. 

Skin Cancer Doctor Discussion Guide

Doctor Discussion Guide Man

If your infection is advanced, your doctor may ask you to return to the office for more invasive treatment. To clean the wound, the doctor will remove the staples or sutures and remove the dead or infected tissue. This process is known as debridement.

The doctor will then rinse the wound with salt water and drain any pus. The wound is generally wrapped with dressings soaked in salt water (saline) and covered with a bandage.

Recap

Talk with your doctor if you develop any signs of infection after skin cancer surgery. Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection or recommend debridement to clean out the wound.

Summary

It is possible to develop an infection after skin cancer removal surgery. Common signs include redness, swelling, pus, a foul smell, increased pain, and a fever. Call your surgeon if you are concerned that you have developed a new infection. Treatment options include antibiotics or cleaning out the wound. To help prevent infection, follow your surgeon’s instructions for wound care carefully.

A Word From Verywell

You may be feeling anxious about caring for your surgical site after undergoing skin cancer removal surgery. Read your surgeon’s postoperative instructions carefully, and ask questions if you do not understand the directions. If you are concerned that you have developed a skin infection, call your doctor’s office.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long will it take to heal after skin cancer removal?

    The healing time for your surgical site will depend on how large and where the incision is located. Many skin cancer removal incisions heal within two to four weeks. If you have any underlying medical conditions or take certain medications, the healing time may take longer.

  • What signs should I look for to know that my infection is healing after skin cancer removal?

    Wounds heal in stages. At first, your surgical site will likely appear slightly red and swollen. After the initial phase, you’ll notice a scab form over the wound. The site may still look pink and drain clear liquid. Over the following three weeks, the wound will start to fill in with new tissue and appear to get smaller. Once the scab falls off, your skin may appear red and shiny.

  • Will an infection heal on its own after skin cancer removal?

    While a minor infection may be able to be treated at home, it’s always best to talk with your dermatologist first. If you develop any signs of infection, such as worsening pain or pus draining from the wound, call your doctor to get it checked out.

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6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Cancer Society. Basal & squamous cell skin cancer surgery. Updated July 26, 2019.

  2. American Society of Plastic Surgeons. Skin cancer removal recovery.

  3. American Society for Mohs Surgery. Wound care a crucial aspect of Mohs recovery.

  4. MedlinePlus. Surgical wound infection – treatment. Updated September 1, 2021.

  5. MedlinePlus. Skin lesion removal - aftercare. Updated September 1, 2021.

  6. MedlinePlus. How wounds heal. Updated September 1, 2021.