Bowel cancer surgery
The type of surgery you have will depend on the position of the cancer in the bowel and your preferences. The aim of surgery is to remove the area of the bowel with the cancer and the nearby lymph nodes.
Learn more about:
- How the surgery is done
- Surgery for cancer in the colon
- Surgery for cancer in the rectum
- Other types of surgery
- Surgery for a blocked bowel (bowel obstruction)
- Risks of bowel surgery
- Side effects of bowel surgery
- What to expect after surgery
You will be given a general anaesthetic and will have either open or keyhole surgery. Each method has advantages in particular situations – your doctor will discuss which method is most suitable for you.
This is usually done with one long cut (incision) down the middle of your abdomen. Open surgery usually means a larger wound and scar, slower recovery and a longer hospital stay. Open surgery is a well-established technique and widely available.
Keyhole surgery is also known as minimally invasive, laparoscopic or robotic surgery. The surgeon makes several small cuts in the abdomen and passes a thin tube with a light and camera (laparoscope) into one of the openings. They then insert tools into the other cuts to remove the section of the bowel with cancer, using images from the camera as a guide. Keyhole surgery is sometimes done using a robotic system. Keyhole surgery usually means less pain and scarring, a shorter hospital stay and faster recovery.
For more on this, see our general section on Surgery.
After surgery, you will have a scar. Most people who have open surgery have a scar from above their navel (bellybutton) to their pubic area.
Podcast: Making Treatment Decisions
A/Prof David A Clark, Senior Colorectal Surgeon, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, QLD, The University of Queensland and The University of Sydney; Yvette Adams, Consumer; Dr Cameron Bell, Gastroenterologist, Royal North Shore Hospital, NSW; Katie Benton, Advanced Dietitian Cancer Care, Sunshine Coast University Hospital and Queensland Health, QLD; John Clements, Consumer; Dr Fiona Day, Medical Oncologist, Calvary Mater Newcastle, NSW; Alana Fitzgibbon, Clinical Nurse Consultant, GastroIntestinal Cancers, Cancer Services, Royal Hobart Hospital, TAS; Prof Alexander Heriot, Consultant Colorectal Surgeon, Director Cancer Surgery, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, and Director, Lower GI Tumour Stream, Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre, VIC; Caitriona Nienaber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; Dr Kirsten van Gysen, Radiation Oncologist, Nepean Cancer Care Centre, NSW.
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