General cancer information


General cancer information

Surgery star_border Save this page

Surgery involves removing tissues or organs from the body. The type of surgery you have depends on your cancer. You may also hear surgery called an operation or a procedure.

Every operation is different. Ask your surgeon about what to expect.

What you need to know

Reasons for using surgery

Surgery can be used for a number of reasons in people with cancer. 

These include:

  • prophylactic surgery
  • diagnostic surgery
  • curative surgery
  • debulking surgery
  • surgery for staging
  • palliative surgery
  • reconstructive surgery.

Types of surgery

The different types of surgery include:

  • conventional surgery 
  • laparoscopic surgery
  • endoscopic surgery
  • cryosurgery
  • laser surgery
  • Mohs surgery
  • robotic surgery
  • NanoKnife surgery.

Where you have surgery

Some small procedures can be done in an outpatient clinic or a doctor’s rooms, e.g. having a biopsy. However, larger operations take place in an operating theatre in a hospital.

People with some less common cancers, or cancers that require complex surgery, should be treated at a recommended hospital. This may involve some travel.

Your surgeon will discuss with you when and where you can have your operation, and any costs involved. They, or one of their team members, will also give you instructions about what to do before your surgery and what to expect afterwards.

The surgical team

Health professionals who work as part of the surgical team include:

  • surgeon
  • anaesthetist
  • nurse
  • allied health professional.

What to ask or talk about

Side effects of surgery

Your surgeon will discuss any risks of the surgery with you before your operation. Most hospitals will also give you written information about the surgery and who to contact if you have any concerns.

Possible surgical side effects and complications include:

  • pain
  • infection
  • bleeding
  • lymphoedema 
  • tiredness 
  • loss of appetite
  • blood clots.

The surgical team looking after you during and after your operation will take care to reduce your risk of side effects, and treat any that you get.

Every operation is different. Ask your surgeon about what to expect and see our checklist of questions to ask.

checklist Checklists

Use our checklists to find helpful tips or questions to ask.

Next steps

Preparing for surgery

Before surgery, you will need to sign a consent form. It is important you understand what you are consenting to and the possible risks of the surgery.

Some things you should know are:

  • whether you need to have tests and a preoperative assessment
  • whether you need to change or stop any medications, e.g. blood thinners like aspirin
  • when you have to stop eating and drinking
  • when you have to be there
  • whether you need time off work
  • whether you need someone to care for you at home after surgery (if you are having day surgery you will need someone to drive you home).
If you smoke, you should stop before any operation as your risk of complications from surgery is higher.

Where to get help

There are people you can talk to for more information or support.

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