In some cases cancer can only be diagnosed through an operation. The operation may collect a tissue sample (biopsy) or check your organs for signs of cancer.

Surgical biopsies

There are many types of surgical biopsies like a lung biopsy or a brain biopsy. Some, like skin biopsies, can be done under local anaesthetic, while others will require a general anaesthetic.

Common types of surgery:


A lapartomy is usually done to help diagnose cancer in the area stretching from below your chest to your hipbones (abdomen and pelvis). A long cut is made near your stomach area so that your doctor can see your organs. Your doctor will explain this operation in detail to you.


If your doctor wants to check your ovaries or other nearby organs, this may require a laparoscopy. A laprascopy is a small operation done in theatre under a general anaesthetic. Just before going to theatre, you may be given a sedative to make you feel more relaxed. While you are asleep, your doctor makes a small cut in your lower abdomen near your belly button.

A small thin telescope called a laparoscope is then put in through the cut. By looking through the laparoscope your doctor can see your organs and take a small sample of tissue (biopsy) to check it.

During the operation, carbon dioxide gas is put into your abdomen. This may give you uncomfortable wind afterwards or shoulder pains for about 3 or 4 days. Afterwards, you will have one or two stitches at the wound site. Most people are ready to go home as soon as the effects of the anaesthetic have worn off.

Call our National Cancer Helpline

Freephone 1800 200 700 to talk to a specialist cancer nurse
It's open Monday-Thursday from 9am to 7pm and Friday from 9am to 5pm