Mole Removal

This procedure involves the removal of pigmented growths on the skin (moles).

This procedure involves the removal of pigmented growths on the skin (moles).

Moles are made up of cells that produce melanin (the pigment that colors hair and skin, except in red heads). Their color can be pink, varying shades of brown and even black. They are a common type of “birthmark” and frequently do not require any specific medical treatment.

  • Some moles may be cancerous and can invade into deep parts of the skin. They can also spread to other parts of the body.
  • Even non-cancerous moles can cause problems. They can bleed or become irritated if they are located where the skin rubs against clothing or other body parts.
  • Moles may need to be removed if they change in size or color, bleed, or become irritated or infected. They may also be removed if there is an increased risk they are cancerous or may become cancerous.

A skin biopsy to check for abnormal, or cancerous, cells is almost always done at the same time a mole is removed. The biopsy can be done using various methods. The specific method depends on the type and size of the mole as well as the area of the body involved. The removal and biopsy of small moles can often be performed in a healthcare provider's office. In some cases they may need to be performed in an operating room.

  • Shave biopsy – The surgeon shaves off the top layer of skin. (For pigmented moles, a shave biopsy must be deep enough to get into normal tissue. This makes sure the diagnosis, treatment and prognosis are accurate.) No stitches are needed.
  • Punch biopsy – The surgeon uses a sharp, hollow tube to remove a piece of a mole. Depending on how much tissue is removed, stitches may or may not be needed.
  • Excisional biopsy – The surgeon removes the entire mole for testing. Stitches are usually needed. A skin graft may also be needed if the mole is large.
  • Incisional biopsy – The surgeon removes a piece of a mole for testing. Depending on how much tissue is removed, stitches may or may not be needed.

Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are two types of cancer that are usually very slow growing. Therefore, their cure rate is very high. A third type of skin cancer called melanoma is often more aggressive. When melanoma is found at a stage where it can be entirely removed by surgery, the outlook is usually very good. If it is not found until it has already spread, melanoma is very difficult to treat. Here is a list of things you can do to help prevent the development of skin damage and skin cancer:

  • Examine your skin on a monthly basis. Use a mirror to check hard-to-see areas.
  • Limit your exposure to the sun.
  • When you are out in the sun, cover as much of your skin as possible by wearing shirts with long sleeves, hats and long pants.
  • Decrease your exposure to the sun during the middle of the day. That is when the sun exposure is most direct on your skin.
  • Wear sun sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15. Put sunscreen on a half hour before you go into the sun and reapply it frequently. Snow is a great reflector of sunlight and increases your exposure. So don't forget to use sunscreen in the winter months!
  • Do not use tanning booths! Tanning booths are as bad for your skin as smoking is for your heart and lungs!

Contact your healthcare provider if you have any changes in an existing mole. Your healthcare provider may recommend removal of the mole and a skin biopsy. Prior to the procedure you should tell him or her about any medications you are taking (including over-the-counter medications and supplements). Ask if there are any specific instructions you should follow before and after the procedure. These may include:

  • Medications you should not take before the procedure, such as blood thinners
  • Regular medications you should continue to take on the day of your procedure

What should I ask my healthcare provider before having a mole removal and skin biopsy?

  • What is my diagnosis and reason for the procedure?
  • What treatment options are best for me?
  • Do I need to see a dermatologist? Should I see dermatologist who performs a specific type of surgery?
  • Should I see a plastic surgeon?
  • What are the possible complications, how will I feel after the procedure, and how will I have to modify my activity? Can I shower or bathe as I normally do?

After your procedure, you should know what you had done, what medication was given (if any) and what symptoms you should report to your healthcare provider. You should also understand all home care instructions (including medications and side effects) and follow-up plans.


Also known as:

Skin Biopsy
Remove Mole
Mole Removal
Cancer of Skin
Biopsy Skin
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