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HealthInfo West Coast-Te Tai Poutini

Risks & complications of skin surgery

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 particular circumstances. So talk about this with your doctor.

Some general risks of this type of surgery include:

FDP Brown bottle pillsWound infections and wound breakdown – excessive bleeding

If your wound becomes infected you will 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 are 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 how to look 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 (painkillers) to take.


You will have scarring where the skin lesion is removed. For most people scars become a paler colour over six months to one year. A few people get raised, red and thickened scars (called keloid or hypertrophic). Tell your surgeon if you have 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 scar to expect. However, it is possible that your scar may be less cosmetically attractive than either you or your doctor expected.


Some people are allergic to medications, dressings or, rarely, to 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 depends on where your skin surgery is, and on 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.

If your surgery is under general anaesthetic there could be general surgical complications:

Blood clots

Blood clots are a serious complication. They can cause deep vein thrombosis (DVT) or pulmonary embolism (PE). Any lengthy operation can cause blood clots but your healthcare team make every effort to avoid them. You're usually given special stockings to wear during your stay in hospital. If you have a high risk of DVT or PE, you may also be given special medication to minimise the risk.


These include chest, urine and wound infections that can be slow to heal and need to be treated with antibiotics.


If you bleed too much you may need to go back to theatre for more surgery, and may need a blood transfusion.

General anaesthesia

The risks include allergic reactions and, rarely, potentially fatal effects on the heart and circulation. The risk is different for each person. You can discuss these risks further with your anaesthetist.

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Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Endorsed by clinical directors Plastic Surgery and Dermatology, Canterbury DHB. Page created April 2014


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Review key: HIEXS-87512