Common types of surgery

There are hundreds of different types of surgery used to diagnose, stage and treat cancer. Some of the more common types are outlined in this section – some are minor and are more commonly called procedures, while others are much bigger operations.

For more information about surgery to treat specific types of cancer, refer to our cancer information pages. For more on this, call Cancer Council 13 11 20, or download a digital version of our booklet on Surgery.

Learn more about:

Listen to our podcasts on Coping with a Cancer Diagnosis and Making Treatment Decisions

Surgery to diagnose and stage cancer

For most cancers, abnormal tissue must be removed and examined to make a diagnosis and find out whether the cancer has spread. This process is called staging. Staging can help the doctor recommend the best treatment for you. Some cancers are also given a grade, which describes how abnormal the cancer cells are and how fast they are growing.

The procedure used to diagnose and stage the cancer is called a biopsy, and it may be done under a local or general anaesthetic. The tissue sample is sent to a laboratory for examination under a microscope by a pathologist.

Often a biopsy is done using a thin or hollow needle, which may be guided by an ultrasound, x-ray or CT machine. A surgical biopsy (open biopsy) is done by cutting the body to remove all or part of the tumour. Various surgical tools can be used depending on the part of the body affected.

A biopsy is sometimes done in the doctor’s rooms, but it may also be done in an operating theatre in hospital as day surgery. 

Sometimes diagnostic and staging surgery removes all of the cancer, and you don’t need further surgery or treatment. For specific information about staging the type of cancer you have, talk to your medical team or call Cancer Council 13 11 20 and ask for a free information booklet.

Types of biopsy

The types of biopsy used to diagnose and stage cancer include:

  • Incisional biopsy – part of the tumour is cut out
  • Excisional biopsy – the entire tumour is cut out. A margin of healthy tissue is usually removed at the same time
  • Core biopsy – a needle is used to remove a thin core of tissue. Sometimes a CT scan or ultrasound is used to guide the needle 
  • Fine needle aspiration or biopsy – a thin needle is used to remove a sample of fluid and tissue from the tumour
  • Skin biopsy – a skin cancer is cut out. The doctor will do an incisional or excisional biopsy of the area. For more information about treating skin cancers, call Cancer Council 13 11 20 and ask for a free copy of Understanding Skin Cancer or Understanding Melanoma, or download digital versions from your local Cancer Council website
  • Endoscopic biopsy/endoscopy – a long, thin, flexible tube with a light and a camera is inserted into the body through a natural opening (e.g. the mouth) or a small cut. The doctor views images of the body on a TV or computer screen and takes a biopsy.

Types of endoscopy


Part of body tested

Where the tube is inserted


Lungs or respiratory tract

Mouth or nose





Vagina and cervix

A speculum is inserted into the vagina to view the organs





Stomach and small intestine



Uterus (womb)



Stomach, liver, female reproductive organs

Small cuts in the abdomen


Larynx (voice box)




Small cut in the lower neck









Small cut in the chest




Surgery to treat cancer

The type of surgery used to treat cancer depends on the location and stage of the cancer and your general health. The table below lists some of the more common types of cancer surgery.


Cancer type












Cervical, ovarian, uterine


Laryngeal (voice box)











Pancreaticoduodenectomy (Whipple’s procedure)










Click on the icon below to download a PDF booklet on Understanding Surgery.

Printed copies are available for free - Call 13 11 20 to order

Instructions for downloading and reading EPUB files

Apple devices

The iBooks application must be installed on your Apple device before you can read the EPUB.
Different ways to download an EPUB file to your Apple device:

  • email EPUB files to yourself and transfer the attachment to iBooks.
  • copy EPUB files into DropBox (or a similar service) and use the DropBox app to send them to iBooks.
  • open EPUB files directly from Mobile Safari and open them in iBooks, where they are saved automatically by downloading the EPUB from the website.

Need more help? Visit:


To download an EPUB file to your Kobo from a Windows computer:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • select “Open folder to view files” to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

To download an EPUB to your Kobo from a Mac:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • open your “Finder” application.
  • select “Kobo eReader” from the listed devices to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, probably in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

Turn on your Kobo and your EPUB will be located in “eBooks”, while a PDF will be located in “Documents”.
Need more information? Visit:

Sony Reader

To download an EPUB file on your Sony Reader™:

  • ensure you have already installed the Reader™ Library for PC/Mac software
  • select the eBook you want from our website and click the link to download it.
  • connect the Reader™ to your computer.
  • open the Reader™ Library software and click “Library” in the left-hand pane and select the eBook to view it.

Need more help? Visit:

Amazon Kindle 2nd Generation devices

EPUB files can’t be read on the Amazon Kindle™. However, like most eReaders, Kindle™ 2nd Generation devices are able to display PDFs. We recommend that you download the PDF version of this booklet if you would like to read it on a Kindle™.
To transfer a PDF to your Kindle™ via USB cable from your computer or Mac:

  • download the PDF directly onto your computer.
  • connect the USB cable to your computer’s USB port, and the micro USB end of the cable to your Kindle™. Note: the Kindle™ won’t be available as a reading device while it is connected to your computer until it has been disconnected.
  • open the Kindle™ drive and several folders will appear inside. The “Documents” folder is where you will need to copy or drag the PDF to.
  • safely eject your Kindle™ from your computer and unplug the USB cable. Your content will appear on the Home Screen.

Kindle also provides a Kindle Personal Documents Service that allows users to send documents as an attachment directly to your eReader. For more information on this service, visit
For more information on accessing a PDF on your Kindle™, visit, log in to your account and click on Personal Document Settings.
Need more help? Visit

Android and PC

You can also download and open eBooks on Android devices and PCs with appropriate apps or software installed. Suitable eReader apps for Android include Google Play Books, FBReader and Moon+ Reader. Suitable software for PCs include Calibre and Adobe Digital Editions.

This information was last reviewed in April 2016
View who reviewed this content
View our editorial policy

Support services

Coping with cancer?
Ask a health professional or someone who’s been there, or find a support group or forum

Need legal and financial assistance?
Pro bono legal and financial matters, no interest loans or help with small business

Looking for transport, accommodation or home help?
Practical advice and support during and after treatment

Cancer information

What is cancer?
How cancer starts and spreads

Dealing with the diagnosis
Common reactions to a cancer diagnosis and how to find hope

View our publications
Guides and fact sheets for people with cancer, their families and friends