Surgery to Treat Cancers

Surgery is used to diagnose and to treat all types of cancer. If the cancer has not spread from its original site, your surgeon may be able to remove the entire tumor through surgery. Depending on the complexity of the procedure and your overall health, surgery may be performed on an outpatient basis or may require a hospital stay on an inpatient basis.Your doctor may discuss one of several types of surgical treatments with you.

Surgical treatments

  • Diagnostic surgery
    This type of surgery is used to get a tissue sample to tell if cancer is present or to tell what type it is. There are many ways to get a sample of cells or to biopsy an area that looks like it may be cancer.
  • Staging surgery
    Staging surgery is done to find out how much cancer there is and how far it has spread. The results of your physical exam, lab work and imaging tests are used to figure out the clinical stage of the cancer. The surgical stage (also called the pathologic stage) is usually a more exact measure of how far the cancer has spread.
  • Curative surgery
    When your doctors find a tumor in only one area and it is small enough to be removed without damaging near-by organs, your surgeon may perform curative surgery. This may be the main treatment, or your curative surgery may be used with chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
  • Debulking (cytoreductive) surgery
    Sometimes it isn't possible to remove all of a tumor. In situations where total removal would cause significant damage to nearby organs, your cancer treatment team may decide to "debulk" the tumor. Your surgeon will remove as much of the cancer as possible and then your oncologist will treat what is left of the tumor with radiation, chemotherapy or other treatments. Debulking can make large tumors more susceptible to chemo or radiation.
  • Palliative surgery
    When advanced cancer is present, palliative surgery may be used. The purpose is not the cure the cancer, but to extend life by correcting a problem that may be putting you in danger such as a bowel obstruction. Palliative surgery also may be used to address pain or disabilities that are impacting the quality of your life.
  • Preventive (prophylactic) surgery
    Preventive surgery is done to remove body tissue that is likely to become cancer even though there are no signs of cancer at the time of the surgery. For example, pre-cancerous polyps may be removed from the colon.

Sometimes preventive surgery is used to remove an entire organ when a person has an inherited condition that puts them at a much higher risk for having cancer some day.

Adapted from the Encyclopedia of Surgery.



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