Excisional surgery is one of the primary treatment modalities for cancer. Minimal residual disease (MRD) is the occult neoplastic disease that remains in situ after curative surgery. There is increasing evidence that tumour removal alters the growth of MRD, leading to perioperative tumour growth. Because neoplasia is a systemic disease, this phenomenon may be relevant to all patients undergoing surgery for cancer. In this review we discuss the published work that addresses the effects of tumour removal on subsequent tumour growth and the mechanisms by which tumour excision may alter residual tumour growth. In addition, we describe therapeutic approaches that may protect patients against any oncologically adverse effects of tumour removal. On the basis of the evidence presented, we propose a novel therapeutic paradigm; that the postoperative period represents a window of opportunity during which the patient may be further protected against the oncological effects of tumour removal.