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Non-melanoma skin cancer

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Potential side effects of surgery for non-melanoma skin cancer

Side effects can occur with any type of treatment for non-melanoma skin cancer, but not everyone has them or experiences them in the same way. Side effects of surgery will depend mainly on the:

  • type of surgery
  • person’s overall health
  • effect of other cancer treatment
  • site involved

Side effects can happen any time during, immediately after, or a few days or weeks after surgery. Most side effects go away after surgery. Late side effects can occur months or years after surgery. Some side effects may last a long time or be permanent.

It is important to report side effects to the healthcare team.


Pain often occurs because of trauma to the tissue during surgery. Nerve pain may occur after surgery done on tissues close to the nerves. Nerve pain can appear long after surgery is over and may last a long time. Pain-relieving medications are used to control pain. It may take time for pain to decrease after surgery, depending on the procedure done or how the person heals or tolerates pain. Check with the doctor if pain does not go away or pain medications do not relieve the pain.

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Some swelling and bruising may occur depending on the area treated. This occurs because of trauma to the tissue during surgery. Swelling and bruising will go away in time. Post-operative instructions will be provided following surgery about how to care for the surgical site.

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A small amount of bloody drainage may be expected after surgery. Report large amounts of blood to the doctor or the healthcare team.

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Some people may develop a wound infection after surgery. This is not a common side effect, but it can potentially occur after any type of surgery. Antibiotics may be used to help prevent or treat an infection. Wound infection is a temporary side effect of surgery.

Tell your doctor or the healthcare team about signs of infection, such as redness, pus or foul-smelling drainage, increased swelling or tenderness at the treatment site and increased temperature (fever).

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Wound separation

The edges of a wound are usually held in place with stitches until the incision heals. The edges of the wound may separate after surgery (dehiscence). Tell the doctor if this happens.

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The skin in the treated area may be scarred, lighter (hypopigmentation) or darker (hyperpigmentation). Scars may be permanent or visible for a long time, but they often fade over time.

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Swelling of the limbs

Swelling of limbs (lymphedema) is due to a buildup of lymph fluid that can occur when lymph nodes are removed. Lymphedema may appear long after surgery is over and may last a long time.

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Researcher Dr Miriam Rosin Dr Miriam Rosin’s research is helping describe the link between HPV and oral cancer.

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