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Laparoscopy

Laparoscopy is a small operation to look inside your tummy (abdomen). Doctors use it to find out if stomach cancer has spread.

Your surgeon puts a thin tube with a light and a camera (laparoscope) through a small cut in your abdomen. They’ll check the area around the stomach and take tissue samples (biopsies). 

You usually have a laparoscopy if your scans show that you might be able to have an operation to remove your cancer. Or you might have a laparoscopy if the results of some of your other tests are unclear.

You usually have the laparoscopy at the specialist centre where the oesophago-gastric multidisciplinary team (MDT) is based. This might be a different hospital to your local hospital where you have some of your other tests. 

Before your laparoscopy

You usually have an appointment before your laparoscopy to check that you’re fit enough for the procedure. A nurse weighs you and takes your blood pressure, pulse and temperature.

You might also have:

  • blood tests
  • a heart trace (ECG)
  • a chest x-ray

You can ask any questions you might have and sign the consent form.

Preparing for your laparoscopy

Tell your doctor if you’re taking medicine that changes how your blood clots. These medicines include:

  • clopidogrel
  • arthritis medicine
  • warfarin
  • aspirin
  • direct acting oral anticoagulants (DAOCs) such as rivaroxaban

Your doctor tells you if you need to stop your medicines or change the dose before the laparoscopy.

You can’t eat for 6 hours before the operation. You might be able to have water for up to 2 hours beforehand. The hospital staff will give you instructions about this.

Tell your doctor if not eating could be a problem for you, for example if you have diabetes.

What happens

You usually have a laparoscopy as a day case, so you can go home later the same day.

You have the operation while you're asleep (under general anaesthetic). It takes about half an hour.

The surgeon usually makes 2 or 3 small cuts:

  • one in or near your tummy button
  • on one or both sides of your abdomen

They put gas (carbon dioxide) into your abdomen. This makes it easier for the surgeon to see your organs, including the liver, stomach and gallbladder.

Your surgeon puts a thin tube with a light and camera (laparoscope) through one of the cuts. They can see the pictures on a TV screen. They put surgical instruments through the other cuts.

They look for signs of cancer in the:

  • lining of your abdomen
  • surface layer of organs in your abdomen 

They take samples of tissue (biopsies) and fluid to send to the laboratory to check for cancer cells.

Then your surgeon removes the tube and instruments. They close the small holes with stitches.

After the laparoscopy

You wake up in the recovery area and then go back to the ward. You might have fluids through a drip in the back of your hand or arm. Once you’re awake and drinking, your nurse takes the drip out. You should be able to eat and drink normally once you feel able to.

You might have some pain in your:

  • abdomen for a few days
  • shoulder for a day or two due to the gas in your abdomen

You usually have paper stitches over the wounds (Steri-Strips) or dissolvable stitches. You also have a waterproof dressing over them or a type of special skin glue. 

You can soak off the dressing and paper stitches 5 days after your operation if they haven’t fallen off already. 

Don’t drive for 24 hours after your general anaesthetic. Ask someone to drive you home from the hospital and stay with you overnight.

Possible risks

Most people won’t have problems from this type of operation. Your doctor makes sure the benefits of having it outweigh the risks, which include:

  • a wound infection – which is treated with antibiotics
  • bleeding during or after surgery – you might need a blood transfusion or another operation
  • a blood clot in your legs (deep vein thrombosis or DVT) – you get up shortly after your operation to reduce the risk of blood clots
  • a small hole (perforation) in your bowel wall – this is extremely rare and is treated with antibiotics and fluids through a drip, or surgery to repair the hole

Your nurse will tell you what to look out for. They’ll also give you a number to call if you have any problems.

Contact your GP or the hospital if you have:

  • a high temperature or feel unwell
  • redness or swelling around your wound or it’s leaking fluid
  • pain in your abdomen that’s getting worse
  • pain or swelling in one or both legs

Getting your results

You should get your results within 1 week, although it might be longer than this. You normally get them at your next clinic appointment along with your other test results.

Waiting for test results can be worrying. You might have contact details for a specialist cancer nurse. You can get in touch with them for information and support if you need to. It may help to talk to a close friend or relative about how you feel.

You can also call the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040. The lines are open from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.
Last reviewed: 
16 Aug 2019
  • Gastric cancer: ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up 
    E Smyth and others, 
     Annals of Oncology, 2016. Volume 27, Pages v38–v49

  • The Royal Marsden Manual of Clinical Nursing Procedures (9th edition)
    Doughty L and Lister S (Eds)
    Wiley Blackwell, 2015.

  • Laparoscopy, computerise tomography, and fluorodeoxyglucose positron emission tomography in the management of gastric and gastro-oesophageal junction cancers
    A Mirza and others
    Surgical Endoscopy, 2015

  • Devita, Hellman and Rosenberg's Cancer Principles and Practice of Oncology (10th edition)
    VT Devita, TS Lawrence and SA Rosenberg
    Wolters Kluwer Health, 2015.

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