Key Points About Surgery for Cancer

  • During surgery for cancer, the surgeon removes the cancerous tumor and surrounding tissue.
  • Surgery for cancer is the oldest type of cancer treatment, and it remains effective for many types of cancer.


Your cancer care specialist may recommend surgery in order to:

  • Determine if cancer has spread (metastasized), or is affecting the function of your organs
  • Diagnose cancer
  • Pinpoint the location of the cancer
  • Relieve side effects you’re experiencing due to your cancer
  • Remove all or part of the cancerous cells
  • Restore your body’s appearance or function, as in reconstructive or cosmetic surgery

Expectations from surgery for cancer

Depending on the type of surgery you’re undergoing, you may have your cancer surgery in a clinic, surgery center or hospital. In most cases, you will be under general anesthesia (fully asleep) for the surgery. 

When possible, your surgeon may use a minimally invasive surgical technique to perform the surgery, which can often reduce downtime and help make the recovery quicker.

Recovery from surgery for cancer

You will likely spend a few hours in a recovery area after your surgery. Nurses will closely monitor you and watch for any side effects from the anesthesia or surgery. You may be able to return home the same day of your surgery, or you may have to stay overnight in the hospital. 

The recovery time after surgery will depend on the type of procedure you undergo. The cancer specialist will provide specific details about your recovery period. You may need to also undergo chemotherapy or radiation therapy to destroy any potential cancerous cells that surgery is not able to remove.

Common conditions requiring surgery for cancer

Cancer care specialists use surgery for all types of cancer. Your specialist will work with you to develop a care plan that is most appropriate for your cancer, your wishes and your situation. This care plan may or may not include surgical procedures.

When should I seek treatment?

If you think you may need to undergo surgery for cancer, start by voicing your concerns to your specialist. Communication with your doctor is the best way to make sure you get the information you need.