Mohs Surgery: Recovery

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Mohs surgery has been hailed as an ideal method for treating skin cancer because it impacts very little healthy tissue and can be completed in one day as an outpatient procedure. Even with these benefits, though, Mohs procedure still requires a bit of time for recovery, and some post-operative care.

Man in profile with bandages on his face
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Surgery Follow-Up

Your follow-up care after Mohs surgery will depend a lot on the amount of tissue that must be removed to clear the tumor margins completely. Your surgeon may want to see you after the procedure to check your wound healing if no additional reconstruction is required.

If you need more in-depth reconstruction, you will visit a reconstructive surgeon—maybe the same one who performed your surgery, or perhaps a plastic surgeon. If your surgery required large-scale tumor removal, your reconstruction may involve a skin graft or flap, and these come with a longer and more complicated recovery process.

Recovery Timeline

Even though you will go home the day of the surgery, you should still plan on taking it easy in the days that follow. Most people go back to work a day or two after surgery.

You may also want to limit your activities depending on the location of the tumor removed. For example, you may want to avoid driving if your surgery involved your eye or hands. Other activities that rely on the affected body part may be a challenge during the healing process.

Call your healthcare provider or 911 if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

Coping With Recovery

If you have had skin cancer treated in the past and it has returned, you may feel anxious during the healing process after Mohs surgery. Talk to your healthcare provider about your anxieties, and your feelings about the surgery and your recovery.

Mohs surgery has up to a 99% cure rate for primary tumors and a 94% cure rate for recurrent tumors, but you should still receive regular skin checks after your surgery.

Don't be surprised if you are left with a scar, either. Scars should be expected with all surgeries, and it can take up to a year for your wounds to heal completely after a Mohs surgery. You can expect your scar to flatten out and lighten in color in the months after your surgery.

Pain Management

Even though Mohs surgery is minimal effects beyond the tumor site, you should still expect to experience some pain and swelling for a bit of time after you procedure. The following are some tips to increase your comfort after Mohs surgery.

  • Bruising at the surgical site is expected, and should go away in two to three weeks.
  • Avoid bending over below your heart level to reduce pain and swelling.
  • If your surgery was on your face, head, or neck, sleep with your head raised on two pillows. Swelling is normal for three days or more.
  • Wounds on the arms or legs usually take the longer to heal. Keep your extremities elevated as much as possible to speed healing. Your healthcare provider may instruct you to wrap the affected limb with an elastic bandage to provide compression and reduce swelling.
  • If you need to ice your wound, do not apply ice directly to your skin. Keep ice on only for 15 minutes at a time.
  • If you have severe pain, your practitioner may offer you a prescription pain medication. If not, you will usually be advised to take ibuprofen and/or acetaminophen. Talk to your medical professional about what type of pain relief is best for you.
  • Call your healthcare provider for any signs of infection, increasing redness or swelling, purulent discharge, or fever.

Wound Care

If you are not receiving reconstructive care at a later date following your surgery, you will be given fairly simple wound care instructions to follow at home. Your specific instructions will be based on your surgeon's preferences and the size and location of your surgical incision. Here is an example of wound care after the Mohs procedure:

  • Your healthcare provider will direct you when to remove the initial post-operative dressing. Until then, keep the dressing clean and dry.
  • Avoid swimming or hot tubs.
  • Clean the wound as instructed until the crust, or eschar, has come off and the skin is healed, or until your healthcare provider removes the sutures.
  • Wash your hands well with soap and water before any wound care.
  • When you need to change the dressing, remove the old dressing carefully, using water to remove the bandage in areas where it sticks to the stick.
  • Shower once each day with the dressing off, or wash the surgical area under running water. Blot dry.
  • Cover the wound after cleaning with a fresh bandage capable of soaking up any drainage and protecting the wound. For a small wound, an adhesive bandage may work. If it was a larger incision, you may need to use gauze and tape, or another dressing as directed by your surgeon.
  • If your surgeon placed a special dressing such as Surgicel or Gelfoam on the wound site, they will come off slowly as the wound heals. There is no need to remove these materials or force them off.
  • You may want to be sure you have a stock of cotton swabs, bandages, tape, and petroleum jelly for wound care.
  • If your surgical site begins to bleed, apply pressure by pressing over the site firmly for 10 minutes. If it has not stopped after 10 minutes, apply pressure for an additional 10 minutes. If it continues bleeding, call the number supplied top you by your surgeon's office or go to your local emergency room.

A Word From Verywell

Even though Mohs surgery is an outpatient procedure and damage to healthy tissue is minimal, you should still plan some time for recovery. Your healthcare provider will give you specific instructions on wound care, pain management, infection surveillance, and follow-up appointments. When in doubt, or if you are concerned about your healing, call your surgeon's office.

5 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 College of Mohs Surgery. Mohs surgery: The most effective treatment for skin cancer.

  2. Nehal K, Lee E. Mohs surgery. UpToDate.

  3. Summit Medical Group. Mohs micrographic surgery.

  4. American College of Mohs Surgery. Post-operative care.

  5. UW Health. Wound care for open or sutured wounds Mohs Surgery Clinic.

By Rachael Zimlich, BSN, RN
Rachael is a freelance healthcare writer and critical care nurse based near Cleveland, Ohio.