Cancer surgery factsheet


Different types of surgery can be used to diagnose and treat cancer in children.

Surgery for cancer is done to:

  • confirm a cancer diagnosis
  • remove tumours or cancers from the body
  • reduce the size of tumours or cancers
  • stop cancers from spreading
  • reduce the need for other types of cancer treatments.

 Before the procedure

Before any surgery, your child's doctor will speak to you about:

  • the type of surgery and what it involves
  • what the aim of surgery is for your child
  • recovery time and side effects
  • treatment after surgery.

Surgery is done using an anaesthetic to stop the pain. The type of anaesthetic used will depend on the type of surgery.

Common types of anaesthetic for surgery include:

  • local anaesthetic – a type of medicine that is applied or injected into a specific area to make it numb
  • general anaesthetic – a mix of medicines used to make sure your child is asleep, comfortable, and not feeling pain during a procedure.

The hospital will contact you before surgery to give you information about:

  • when and where to arrive
  • what time your child needs to stop eating and drinking, also called fasting nil by mouth
  • what to bring with you
  • whether your child will stay overnight in the hospital or go home after the procedure.

 During the procedure

There are many kinds of surgery used to diagnose and treat cancer. Surgery will be different for each child, depending on: 

  • their health
  • their specific treatment
  • how advanced the cancer is 
  • whether the cancer has spread.

Some common types of surgery used in cancer treatment include


A biopsy is a type of surgery used to confirm a cancer diagnosis. This procedure involves taking a small tissue sample from a tumour and sending it off for testing.

Biopsy can be done at the same time as other surgeries and cancer treatments.

Primary surgery

Primary surgery removes all or most of a tumour after it is diagnosed. 

Sometimes, a tumour cannot be safely removed right away. This will depend on its size and which part of the body it is in. 

Chemotherapy or radiotherapy can be given before surgery to help shrink the tumour and make it easier to remove. After surgery, these treatments can also be given to kill any remaining cancer cells.

Supportive care surgery

Supportive care surgery is done to help your child manage their cancer treatment. This can include the insertion of tubes like:

  • a central venous line or portacath – a long, thin tube placed in a vein near the heart to give medication, nutrition, and fluids over a long period
  • a gastronomy tube – a tube placed in the stomach to feed your child when they cannot eat through their mouth.

 After the procedure

It is normal to have side effects after surgery and anaesthetic. 

These can include:

  • pain and discomfort
  • nausea and vomiting
  • dizziness
  • irritability.

Rare side effects can include:

  • infection
  • bleeding
  • blood clots.

Other side effects will depend on the specific type of cancer and surgery your child has.

Speak to your child's treatment team if you have any questions or concerns about side effects and recovery after cancer surgery.


Supporting your child through cancer surgery

It is ok if you don’t have all the answers for your child about cancer treatment and surgery. You can help your child feel supported, informed, and comfortable by:

  • using simple, age-appropriate language to talk about their treatment
  • supporting them to ask questions directly to their doctor
  • contacting the child-life therapy team at your local hospital for support.

Child life specialists are trained to talk to kids about medical treatments in a comforting and informative way. 

Resources and more information

Childhood Cancer Support

Childhood Cancer Support

Email Send email
Phone(07) 3844 5000
Keeps families together during their child's cancer treatment in a compassionate and supportive community environment.
Related Links
Children’s Cancer Institute

Children’s Cancer Institute

Phone1800 685 686
CCI is an Australian medical research institute wholly dedicated to curing childhood cancer. Their website offers information on childhood cancer and opportunities to volunteer, fundraise or donate to help support their work.
Related Links
Australian Government - Cancer Australia

Cancer Australia

Phone1800 624 973
A resource that lists information, advice and support organisations available to help you.
Related Links
Last updated Tuesday 19th March 2024


This factsheet is provided for general information only. It does not constitute health advice and should not be used to diagnose or treat any health condition.

Please consult with your doctor or other health professional to make sure this information is right for you and/or your child.

The Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network does not accept responsibility for inaccuracies or omissions, the interpretation of the information, or for success or appropriateness of any treatment described in the factsheet.

© Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network 2024