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Surgical excision is the mainstay of treatment for potentially curable solid tumours. Metastatic disease is the most important cause of cancer-related death in these patients. The likelihood of tumour metastases depends on the balance between the metastatic potential of the tumour and the anti-metastatic host defences, of which cell-mediated immunity, and natural killer cell function in particular, is a critical component. It is increasingly recognized that anaesthetic technique and other perioperative factors have the potential to effect long-term outcome after cancer surgery. Surgery can inhibit important host defences and promote the development of metastases. Anaesthetic technique and drug choice can interact with the cellular immune system and effect long-term outcome. The potential effect of i.v. anaesthetics, volatile agents, local anaesthetic drugs, opiates, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are reviewed here. There is particular interest at present in the effect of regional anaesthesia, which appears to be beneficial. Retrospective analyses have shown an outcome benefit for paravertebral analgesia for breast cancer surgery and epidural analgesia for prostatectomy. Blood transfusion, pain, stress, and hypothermia are other potentially important perioperative factors to consider.