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Removing your mole (excision biopsy)

Removing the area to find out if it is a melanoma skin cancer is called an excision biopsy. 

The only way to know for sure if you have melanoma is to remove the abnormal area and send it to the laboratory to be tested. A pathologist looks at the tissue under a microscope and makes a diagnosis.

What happens

Removing your mole to find out whether it is a melanoma is a minor operation.

You lie down on the treatment couch. Your specialist, usually a consultant dermatologist or a plastic surgeon who is experienced in melanoma, injects some local anaesthetic into the area around the mole. This numbs the area.

They remove the whole mole and a small amount (2mm) of normal skin around it. This is what the British Association of Dermatologists recommend in their guidelines. Your specilist sends what they remove to the laboratory.

They close the wound with stitches. You may have a small dressing over the top to begin with. Your doctor or nurse will let you how to look after the wound and dressing.

What happens after your mole is removed

A week or two later, you go back to the clinic or your GP practice to have your stitches taken out. You might have stitches that dissolve on their own instead.

Getting your results

You get your results at the clinic or your GP practice. It may take up to 2 weeks to get them.

Waiting for test results can be worrying. It may help to talk to a close friend or relative about how you feel.

You can also call the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040. The lines are open from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.

What happens next

You will need to go into hospital for another operation to remove more tissue, if you have melanoma.

This is called a wide local excision. The aim is to take away any cancerous cells that may have been left in the area around the melanoma. It reduces the chance of the melanoma coming back.

Depending on how deep your melanoma is, you might need tests to find out if it has spread to another area of your body.

If you don’t have melanoma, you do not need any further tests or treatment.

Last reviewed: 
22 Jan 2016
  • Melanoma: assessment and management
    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), July 2015

  • Revised U.K. guidelines for the management of cutaneous melanoma 2010
    J.R. Marsden and others
    British Journal of Dermatology 2010 163, pp238–256

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