What to expect if you have a mole removed

This page was reviewed under our medical and editorial policy by

Frederick L. Durden, Jr, MD, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeon & Microsurgical Reconstructive Surgeon

This page was updated on October 20, 2022.

Upon noticing an abnormal mole or skin growth, your doctor may recommend its removal. For most small moles, this procedure is simple and well-tolerated. Still, it’s helpful to understand how the procedure works.

Why are mole removals done?

Mole removals are typically done for health reasons—if your care team suspects that a mole may be precancerous or cancerous.

Sometimes a mole may be removed for cosmetic reasons, especially if it’s on your face, neck or another noticeable area. Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States, with most cases falling into one of two types: melanoma or nonmelanoma.

Skin cancer is treated most effectively if caught early, which is why it’s crucial to speak up if you’re worried about a mole on your body.

Skin cancer is most commonly found in areas of the body frequently exposed to sunlight, such as the face, neck, hands and arms.

However, it’s important to remember that not all moles are cancerous. The only way to officially diagnose a cancerous mole is by undergoing a biopsy.

What to expect during the procedure

If your doctor has scheduled a mole removal procedure, you may receive instructions on how to prepare. Ask your care team any questions that you may have about the process and recovery time. Unless instructed otherwise, it’s fine to eat and drink before the procedure.

For most small mole removals, a biopsy is an outpatient procedure, meaning you’ll be able to go home after it’s over.

  • Typically, your doctor numbs the skin first with a local anesthetic, which is injected into the skin with a needle.
  • Your doctor then surgically removes the mole.
  • Stitches may be required after, with your doctor providing instructions for how to care for the stitches and when they’ll need to be removed.

Due to the use of a numbing anesthetic, the pain during the procedure is often minimal—you may feel some pressure and temporary discomfort.

What to expect after the procedure

There are four common types of biopsy procedures used, with your doctor then sending the tissue sample to a pathologist for testing. There, it’s examined under a microscope for any cancer cells or abnormal cells.

The four types of biopsies are:

Shave (tangential) biopsy—The doctor uses a medical razor blade to shave off the top layers of the skin, removing the skin cells. To stop any bleeding, the doctor will apply an ointment or cauterize the wound using a gentle electrical current.

Punch biopsy—The doctor uses a tiny round tool, similar to a cookie-cutter, to puncture a rounded area of skin and remove a deeper sample of skin than with the shave biopsy. The skin is likely to require stitches after the procedure.

Excisional and incisional biopsies—If a mole or tumor is thought to have grown into deeper layers of skin tissue, the doctor may perform an excisional or incisional biopsy. During an excisional biopsy, the entire tumor is surgically removed with a surgical knife. For an incisional biopsy, only a portion of the tumor is removed. Afterward, stitches are applied.

Risks, complications and aftercare

A mole removal is a minor surgical procedure that is generally well-tolerated. However, with any surgical procedure, there are risks. Scarring is always possible after a mole removal. There is also a risk of infection, so watch for:

  • Redness
  • Pain
  • Swelling

Following your doctor’s instructions is the best way to avoid complications. If you have stitches, they’ll play an important role in helping your skin recover. Make sure to treat them with care:

  • Keep the area covered for at least 24 to 48 hours after the procedure.
  • Gently wash the area with soap and water.
  • Keep the wound site clean, and return to your doctor for follow-up appointments as scheduled.

Even without stitches, some aftercare is important to prevent scarring or infection. Wounds heal from the inside out toward the surface and take time to heal.

  • You may be asked to keep a dressing over the wound and keep it moist with petroleum jelly or another ointment, as directed.
  • Avoid using cleansers, alcohol-based products or peroxides, soaps or other harsh chemicals on the open wound.

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