Surgery for Cancer


Surgery is one of the main treatment types for many different cancers.


What is Surgery?

Surgery involves an operation to remove all or part of the cancer. The type of surgery you have will depend on the type of cancer that you have.

Some cancers can be treated by surgery alone.

Some cancers require a combination of treatments along with surgery, such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy.

Some cancers cannot be treated by surgery, for example cancers of the blood, and alternative types of cancer treatment may be offered. 

Surgery can be used to:

  • Treat cancer by fully removing the cancer
  • Diagnose and/or stage cancer (assess how advanced the cancer is)
  • “Debulk” or partially remove the cancer as part of a combined treatment approach
  • Provide symptom relief (palliative surgery)
  • Reconstruct organs/parts of the body that have had to be removed due to cancer
  • Reduce the risk of developing a future cancer (prophylactic/risk-reducing surgery)


How do I access a surgeon?

You will be referred to a consultant surgeon’s clinic by your GP or another medical professional.

Sometimes, you may be referred to a surgeon with symptoms that may represent cancer. The surgeon will meet you and organise investigations. If cancer is diagnosed, then the surgeon will plan and discuss treatment recommendations with you. Sometimes, this may involve onward referral to another surgeon with specialist expertise, depending on the type of cancer you are diagnosed with.

Sometimes, you will have your cancer diagnosed through investigations performed by another consultant/medical professional. In this case, you will be referred to the consultant surgeon who can provide the correct surgical treatment for you.

If surgery is planned as part of your treatment, your surgeon and their team, including specialist cancer nurses, will arrange for your admission to the hospital for your surgery.


Attending the Hospital for Cancer Surgery 

Length of Stay

Many cancer surgeries can be performed as a day-case procedure, which means you do not need to stay in hospital overnight. For bigger operations, you will need to stay in hospital.

The length of stay will depend upon the type of surgery that you have and how you are recovering from it. Your surgeon will advise you of the likely length of your stay before you are admitted.



For most cancer surgeries, you will be admitted to the hospital on the morning of your operation.

If you are having a general anaesthetic, you will be advised not to eat or drink anything that morning before your operation. 

You will be advised to bring an overnight bag if you are being admitted.

You should bring a list of all of your medications with you. You will be advised which of your medications you should take on the morning of your operation. You may be advised not to take some of your medications (e.g. blood thinners, diabetic medications).



Surgery can be performed under:

  • general anaesthesia (you are fully asleep for the procedure)
  • local anaesthesia (you are awake but the area of your operation has been made numb so that you cannot feel what the surgeon is doing).

The type of anaesthetic you require will depend on the type of operation you are having.


Who will look after you during your admission?

You will meet numerous members of the healthcare team on the day of your operation. You will be admitted by nursing staff on the ward and a doctor from your surgeon’s team. You will meet your surgeon/their team, your anaesthetic doctor, theatre nurses and porters. During the course of your stay before and after your surgery, you may meet many other members of the healthcare team. This depends on the type of cancer you have and the type of surgery you are having.


Recovery from Cancer Surgery

Recovery from your surgery very much depends on the type of surgery that you have. Your team will be able to give you more information on recovering from the specific surgery that you have.  



After your discharge from hospital your surgeon/specialist nurse will arrange a follow-up appointment to review the results of your surgery and ensure you are recovering well. Prior to your discharge from hospital, you will be given contact information for who to call if you are experiencing problems at home. This contact number will vary depending on the team looking after you.