Surgery for Cancer

Surgery is a medical technique that involves cutting into a person’s body. It’s sometimes called an operation.

Although many patients want to have surgery to ‘cut the cancer out’, it isn’t a suitable treatment for all cancers. Sometimes surgery is the most effective approach for a particular type of cancer, in other cases, non surgical treatments have been proven to be more effective.

On this page you will find information about:

How is surgery done?

The way the surgery is done (the approach) depends on the type of operation you have, the surgeon’s training, and the equipment in the hospital/theatre.

Open surgery is the most traditional approach. The surgeon makes a single cut (incision) into the body to see and operate on the organs. Sometimes the cut can be quite large.

Minimally invasive surgery (MIS) is usually called keyhole or laparoscopic surgery. The surgeon makes about 3-5 small cuts and inserts a laparoscope. In some cases you might have a MIS followed by an open operation.

Will I stay in hospital?

Sometimes you will need to be admitted to hospital to have surgery. This is called inpatient care.

The length of your hospital stay depends on the type of operation you have, your recovery and if you have support at home.

It may be possible to have day surgery (outpatient surgery). This means you can go home on the same day of the operation. You don’t have to stay overnight in hospital, as long as complications don’t arise.

What questions should I ask?

It’s important to ask questions about the type of surgical procedure recommended to you, and the surgeon who will be operating.

In particular, make sure you’re familiar with the surgeon’s training and experience.

You should also know the likely costs, and the risks and complications of the procedure.

Can surgery spread the cancer?

There are some situations where it is possible for surgery to cause cancer to spread, but it is very rare. In these cases, surgeons are very cautious and will still operate if the benefits of surgery outweigh the risk of not having the operation.

For example, most men with testicular cancer have their entire testicle removed, rather than part of the testicle. This is to prevent cancer cells becoming dislodged.

If the surgeon must remove tissue from more than one part of the body, they will use different tools at each site to reduce the risk of cancer cells spreading.

Some people think that cancer can spread if it’s exposed to air during surgery. This is incorrect. This myth may exist because people feel unwell after an operation. However, it’s common to feel unwell when your body has been put under stress and is recovering.

Talk to your surgeon or call Cancer Council 13 11 20 if you are concerned about the cancer spreading.

For more information please refer to the Understanding Surgery booklet.