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Risks & complications of skin surgery

Tūraru me pīroiroitanga o te pokanga kiri

Your doctor will make every effort to reduce risk and minimise complications, but all surgery carries some risk. The specific risks for your surgery will depend on your circumstances. Talk about this with your doctor.

Wound infections and wound breakdown

FDP Brown bottle pillsIf your wound becomes infected, you'll need antibiotics. Some wounds do not heal quickly, or occasionally the wound can reopen or need further surgery.

To reduce the risk of problems with your wounds, you need to treat them carefully until they're fully healed over (which often takes a few weeks). If you do physical work, talk to your doctor about when you can return to work. Read more about looking after your skin surgery wound.

Bruising, swelling and pain

To help reduce swelling and pain, try to keep the area raised in the week after your operation. Your doctor can prescribe you some suitable pain relief.


You'll have scarring where the skin lesion has been removed. For most people, scars become paler over six months to a year. A few people get raised, red and thickened scars (called keloid or hypertrophic). Tell your surgeon if you've had this type of scar before.

Wounds that do not heal well at first may leave a worse scar. Talk to your doctor about what type of scarring to expect. But it's possible that your scar may end up worse than you or your doctor expected.


Some people are allergic to medications, dressings or rarely, stitches.

Damage to nerves and blood vessels

Rarely, skin surgery can damage important surrounding structures such as nerves or blood vessels. The chance of this happening depends on where your skin surgery is and the type of surgery you need. This can be serious, depending on what is affected.

Recurrence of the skin cancer

Skin cancers can come back where you had the skin surgery. The earlier this is detected the better. If you see any suspicious changes develop where you had the skin surgery, see your doctor as soon as possible. Ask your doctor if you should have any monitoring after your skin cancer. Read here for information on looking after yourself after a melanoma or non-melanoma skin cancer.

General surgical risks

If your surgery is under a general anaesthetic, there could be general surgical complications.

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Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed June 2022.


Page reference: 87516

Review key: HISKW-128569