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Removing your mole (excision biopsy)

The specialist doctor might remove the abnormal area to find out if it's a melanoma skin cancer. This is called an excision biopsy. 

The doctor sends the abnormal area or mole to the laboratory.  A specialist doctor (pathologist) looks at the tissue under a microscope. This is the only way to know for certain if you have melanoma. 

What happens

You need a minor operation to remove your mole to find out whether it is a melanoma. You can eat and drink as usual before the operation.

A specialist skin doctor (consultant dermatologist) usually does the operation. Or you might see a plastic surgeon who is experienced in melanoma.

You lie down on the treatment couch. Your specialist injects some local anaesthetic into the area around the mole. This numbs the area. You will be awake.

They remove the whole mole and a small amount (2mm) of normal skin around it.  Your specialist sends what they remove to the laboratory.

They might need to 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.

After the biopsy

You can go home the same day.  

You can usually remove the dressing a few days after the operation. If you’ve had stitches you’ll need to go back to the clinic or your GP practice to have your stitches taken out. Or you might have stitches that dissolve on their own instead.

The nurse or doctor will let you know what they have done and how to look after your wound before you leave.

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 Apr 2020
Next review due: 
21 Apr 2023
  • 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

  • Melanoma. A Modern Multidisciplinary Approach
    A I Riker and others
    Springer, 2018 (ebook)

  • Guidelines of care for the management of primary cutaneous melanoma
    S M Swetter and others
    Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 2019. Volume 80, Issue 1, Pages 208 – 250

  • SIGN 146 Cutaneous melanoma. A national clinical guideline
    Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network, January 2017

  • BMJ Best Practice Melanoma
    A M Menzies and others
    BMJ Publishing Group, last updated June 2018

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