Surgery for the Treatment of Cancer
Surgery is the oldest type of cancer therapy and still an effective treatment
for many types of cancer. Surgical oncologists perform procedures to diagnose
cancer; to remove all or some of a cancer or tumor; to find out where
the cancer is located; to find out if the cancer has spread or is affecting
the functions of other organs in the body; to restore the body's appearance
or function; and/or to relieve side effects.
Types of surgery
Diagnostic surgery, or a biopsy, begins with an incision in the skin and removes some or
all of the suspicious tissue so the healthcare team can make a precise
Staging surgery allows the surgeon to look for the size of the tumor and often remove
some lymph nodes near the cancer, indicating if or where the cancer has spread.
Primary or curative surgery, or
tumor removal, is often used to take out the tumor along with some healthy tissue around
it – referred to as the margin.
Debulking surgery removes as much of the tumor as possible if the surgeon finds that removing
the entire tumor may damage the body too much. In those cases, other treatments
may be used to reduce the rest of the tumor. Sometimes these treatments
are administered before surgery to shrink the tumor so the surgeon is
able to safely remove it.
Palliative surgery is used to relieve side effects that is a tumor causes, and is vital in
improving patients’ quality of life – especially when the
cancer is advanced or a disease is widespread.
Reconstructive or plastic surgery can occur after or at the same time as primary cancer surgery to repair
the body’s appearance or function. A common reconstructive surgery
is breast reconstruction following a mastectomy.
Preventive surgery is sometimes recommended to reduce the risk of cancer – such as preventing
colon cancer by taking out precancerous colon polyps.
How does surgery work against cancer
Surgery can treat cancer in many ways, including:
- Removing a small piece of something that could be cancerous to check it
for cancer cells (biopsy)
- Seeing how much cancer is in the body and how far it has spread (staging)
- Removing all the cancer
- Removing most of the cancer so that other treatments, such as radiation
or chemo, can work better
- Treating problems caused by the cancer (for example, opening a bowel that
is blocked by a tumor)
- Inserting devices to help with cancer treatment, including feeding tubes
or IV access tubes
- Helping replace or fix body parts following cancer treatment, such as replacing
a bone that has been removed
- Trying to prevent someone from getting cancer
How is it performed
Depending on the type of procedure you need, surgery will either be performed
traditionally or with a minimally invasive technique, using robotics
Where do you go to have surgery
Surgeries are performed in BRG’s operating rooms, and depending on
the type of procedure, patients may recover in the hospital or at home