A skin graft or a skin flap is when skin is taken from another part of the body to cover the area where the skin cancer was removed.

About skin grafts and skin flaps

If the cancer is large or spreading, a larger area of skin may need to be removed to cover the wound. You may need a skin graft or, less commonly, a skin flap.

What is a skin graft?

A skin graft is a layer of skin taken from another part of the body and placed over the area where the skin cancer was removed. The place where the skin is taken from is known as the donor site. The place where it is moved to is called the grafted area. The amount of skin that is taken depends on the size of the area to be covered. Your doctor or specialist nurse will tell you more about this.

The donor site

You will have a dressing on the donor site to protect it from infection. How long the site takes to heal will depend on how much skin was removed. If skin was taken from the thigh, buttock or upper arm, it may take up to two weeks to heal. If it was taken from the neck, behind the ears or the inner side of the upper arm, it may only take about five days to heal. The donor site can often feel more uncomfortable than the grafted area. You may need to take regular painkillers for a while.

The grafted area

The grafted area may be secured with stitches. You will have a dressing over it, which will be left in place while the graft heals. The skin graft will connect with the blood supply in the area. This usually takes five to seven days. The area will look red and swollen to begin with, but eventually it will heal and the redness will fade.

After skin graft surgery

After a skin graft, you can usually go home on the same day. Some people need a short stay in hospital depending on where the graft is on the body and how big it is.

Try not to do too much during the first couple of weeks after surgery. You will need to allow the graft to heal properly. The grafted area will be quite fragile. It is important not to put pressure on it, or rub or brush against it. Some people may need to take some time off work until it has healed. If you have young children, you may need some extra help at home until you feel able to do the things you normally do.

Your stitches will be removed 5 to 14 days after your operation. Some people may have stitches that dissolve and do not need to be removed.

Both the grafted and donor areas will develop scars. These should gradually become less noticeable. There will also be some difference between how the grafted skin and the skin surrounding it looks. This will lessen over time. Your hospital team can tell you more about what to expect.

What is a skin flap?

A skin flap is a slightly thicker layer of skin, which is taken from an area very close to the wound where the cancer has been removed. The flap is cut away, but left partly connected so it still has a blood supply. It is moved over the wound and stitched in place. If you have a skin flap, you may need to stay in hospital for a few days.

Skin flap surgery is very specialised. A plastic surgeon usually does it. You may have to travel to a different hospital to have it. If you need a skin flap, your doctor will be able to tell you more about it.

About our information

  • References

    Below is a sample of the sources used in our skin cancer information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at cancerinformationteam@macmillan.org.uk

    Motley et al. British Association of Dermatologists. Management of the patient with primary cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma. 2009.

    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). NG12: Suspected cancer: recognition and referral. 2015 (updated 2017).

    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). NG134: Sunlight Exposure: Benefits and Risks. 2016.

    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). PH32: Skin Cancer Prevention. 2011 (updated 2016).

    Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network (SIGN) 140. Management of primary cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma. 2014.

    Telfar N et al. Guidelines for the management of basal cell carcinoma. British Journal of Haematology. 2008.


  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Senior Medical Editor, Professor James Larkin, Consultant Medical Oncologist.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.