Surgery is one of the main treatments for cancer and sometimes is the only treatment needed for a cure. Surgery is a local treatment so it may cure cancer that is completely contained in one area and hasn't spread. Usually, the earlier a cancer is found the easier it is to remove it. During your surgical procedure, your surgeon will remove the tumor as well as some normal tissue from around the cancer. They might also remove the lymph nodes nearest to the cancer to see if they contain any cancer cells.
The surgeon sends all the tissue they’ve removed to a laboratory for examination under a microscope. This gives more information about the cancer. It helps doctors to decide whether further treatment may be needed to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back.
Surgery is used in cancer treatment for several purposes:
- Preventive. To remove tissue that does not yet contain cancer cells, but has the probability of becoming cancerous in the future. This may also be referred to as prophylactic surgery.
- Diagnostic. To remove samples of tissue from a suspicious area for testing and evaluation (in a laboratory by a pathologist) to confirm a diagnosis, identify the type of cancer, or determine the stage of the cancer.
- Curative. To remove or destroy cancerous tissue, which may include removal of some tissue around the tumor and nearby lymph nodes.
Surgery may also be performed for:
- Palliative purposes. To relieve discomfort.
- Supportive purposes. To allow for placement of a device that will aid in the delivery of medications.
- Restorative or reconstructive purposes. To repair or replace damaged or destroyed areas of the body.
What types of surgery are used in the treatment of cancer?
Examples of types of surgical procedures used to diagnose or destroy cancerous tissue include:
- Biopsy. Removal of sample of tissue via a hollow needle or scalpel.
- Cryosurgery. Use of liquid nitrogen, or a probe that is very cold, to freeze and kill cancer cells.
- Endoscopy. Use of a very flexible tube with a lens or camera (and a light on the end), which is connected to a computer screen, allowing the physician to see inside the hollow organs, such as the bladder. Biopsy samples can be taken through the tube.
- Electrosurgery. Use of high-frequency electrical currents to destroy cancer cells.
- Excisional. Cutting away cancerous tissue with a scalpel or other instruments to completely remove it and possibly some surrounding tissue. There are many types of excisional surgeries, each named for the particular area of the body in which they are performed or the particular purpose for which they are performed.
- Laparoscopy. Use of a viewing tube with a lens or camera (and a light on the end), which is inserted through a small incision in the abdomen to examine the contents of the abdomen and remove tissue samples.
- Laparotomy. A surgical procedure that involves an incision across the abdomen; often used when making a diagnosis by less invasive tests is difficult.
- Laser surgery. Use of a powerful beam of light, which can be directed to specific parts of the body without making a large incision, to destroy abnormal cells.