Common reasons you may need cancer surgery include:
Cancer prevention. If you have a high risk of cancer in certain tissues or organs, your doctor may recommend that you remove these tissues or organs before the cancer develops.
For example, if you were born with a genetic disease called familial adenomatous polyposis, your doctor may use cancer surgery to remove your colon and rectum because you have a high risk of colon cancer.
Diagnosis. Your doctor may use some form of cancer surgery to remove all or part of the tumor in order to study the tumor under a microscope to determine whether its growth is cancerous (malignant) or non-cancerous (benign).
Installments. Cancer surgery can help your doctor find out how far your cancer has progressed, called stage. Surgery allows your doctor to assess the size of your tumor and determine if it has spread to your lymph nodes. Additional tests may be required to measure the stage of your cancer.
Primary treatment. For many tumors, cancer surgery is the best chance of cure, especially if the cancer is localized and has not spread.
The volume is reduced. For example, when the entire cancerous tumor cannot be removed, because doing so will severely damage the organ, your doctor may remove as much as possible (reducing the tumor) to make chemotherapy or radiotherapy more effective.
Alleviate symptoms or side effects. Sometimes, surgery is used to improve your quality of life, not to treat the cancer itself, for example, to relieve pain caused by a tumor compressing nerves or bones, or to remove a tumor that blocks the intestines.
Surgery is often combined with other cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Whether you choose to receive additional cancer treatment depends on the type of cancer, the stage, and your overall health.
Traditionally, the main goal of cancer surgery is to cure cancer by removing all cancer from your body. Surgeons often do this by cutting into your body and removing the cancer and some of the surrounding healthy tissue to make sure all the cancer has been removed.
The surgeon may also remove some lymph nodes in the area to determine if the cancer has spread. This helps your doctor assess your chances of cure and the need for further treatment.
For breast cancer surgery, your doctor may remove the cancer by removing the entire breast (mastectomy) or just the part of the breast that contains the cancer and some surrounding tissues (lumpectomy).
In the case of lung cancer surgery, your doctor may remove part of the lung (lobectomy) or the entire lung (pneumonectomy) to make sure all cancers have been removed. In these two examples, the surgeon may also remove some lymph nodes in the area during surgery to see if the cancer has spread.
What other techniques are used in cancer surgery?
There are many other types of surgical methods to treat cancer and precancerous lesions, and researchers continue to study new methods. Some common types of cancer surgery include:
Cryosurgery. In this type of surgery, your doctor will use very cold materials, such as a liquid nitrogen spray or cold probes, to freeze and destroy cancer cells or cells that may turn cancerous, such as the cervix that may turn into cervical cancer.
Electrosurgery. By applying high-frequency current, your doctor can kill cancer cells, for example, in your mouth or skin.
Mohs Surgery. This surgical method can be used to remove cancer from certain sensitive areas of the skin (such as near the eyes) and to assess the depth of the cancer. This surgical method involves carefully removing the cancer layer by layer with a scalpel. After removing a layer, your doctor will evaluate it under the microscope and continue in this way until all the abnormal cells have been removed and the surrounding tissues show no signs of cancer.
Laparoscopic surgery. The surgeon uses a laparoscope to look inside your body without making a large incision. Instead, make a few small incisions and insert a miniature camera and surgical tools into your body. The surgeon looks at the monitor, which projects what the camera sees onto your body. A smaller half incision faster recovery and a lower risk of complications. Laparoscopic surgery is used for the diagnosis, staging, treatment, and relief of symptoms of cancer.
Robotic surgery. In robotic surgery, the surgeon sits away from the operating table and looks at a screen on which a 3D image of the operating area is projected. The surgeon uses hand control to tell the robot how to manipulate the surgical tools to perform the operation. Robotic surgery can help surgeons perform operations in hard-to-reach areas.
Natural orifice surgery. Currently, natural orifice surgery is being studied as a method of operating the abdominal organs without making an incision in the skin. Instead, surgeons pass surgical tools through natural openings in the body, such as the mouth, rectum, or vagina.
For example, a surgeon may pass surgical tools down the throat into the stomach during natural orifice surgery. A small incision is made in the wall of the stomach and surgical tools are inserted into the abdominal cavity to collect liver tissue samples or remove the gallbladder.
Natural orifice surgery is experimental, and there are few operations performed in this way. Doctors hope it will reduce the risk of infection, pain and other surgical complications.
Cancer surgery continues to develop. Researchers are studying other surgical techniques with the goal of reducing invasive surgery.