Mohs Micrographic Surgery for Non-Melanoma Skin Cancer

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Mohs Micrographic Surgery for Non-Melanoma Skin Cancer

Surgery Overview

Mohs micrographic surgery involves removing a skin cancer one layer at a time and examining these layers under a microscope immediately after they are removed. This procedure allows for a close examination of each layer of skin to detect cancer cells. It also allows a minimal amount of tissue to be removed while ensuring complete removal of all the cancer cells.

A local anesthetic is injected into the skin before the surgery. Your doctor then begins to remove the skin cancer and a small amount of healthy tissue, one layer of skin at a time. Each tissue layer is prepared and examined under the microscope for cancer cells. Surgery is complete when no more cancer cells are detected.

What To Expect After Surgery

Recovery may take 2 to 4 weeks, depending on the extent of surgery.

Why It Is Done

Mohs micrographic surgery may be used for removal of skin cancer that:

  • Is likely to return. Mohs micrographic surgery is more effective in obtaining cancer-free margins for cancers that have irregular borders and a history of removal and recurrence.
  • Is located in visible areas or areas where skin tissue should be preserved, such as on the ears, nose, or eyelids.
  • Is growing quickly.
  • Has a high risk of spreading to other parts of the body, such as in some squamous cell carcinomas.
  • Occurs in children.

How Well It Works

Mohs micrographic surgery can be an effective treatment for skin cancer. This technique preserves as much nearby healthy skin as possible. Treatment with Mohs surgery offers the highest rates of cure for patients with squamous cell carcinoma.1 Mohs surgery is also advised for certain skin cancers when the highest cure rate is needed while sparing as much healthy tissue as possible. Compared to standard excision treatments, recurrence is less after Mohs micrographic surgery.


Risks of surgery include:

  • Infection of the wound.
  • Scarring.
  • Discomfort or pain.
  • Bleeding.

What To Think About

Mohs micrographic surgery is the best procedure to preserve skin tissue surrounding the cancer. But it requires special training and equipment. And it is time-consuming.

Complete the surgery information form (PDF) (What is a PDF document?) to help you prepare for this surgery.



  1. National Cancer Institute (2008). Skin Cancer (PDQ): Treatment. Health Professional Version. Available online:


By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer Andrew Swan, MD, CCFP, FCFP - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Randall D. Burr, MD - Dermatology
Last Revised December 2, 2010

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