Surgery is a versatile approach used for various purposes in cancer care.
It is one of the primary treatment options for cancer and is used in various ways depending on the type, stage, and location of the cancer.
The goal of cancer surgery is to remove the tumor or cancerous tissue from the body and, if possible, prevent its spread to other parts of the body.
What is Cancer Surgery?
Cancer surgery involves the removal of tissue from the body and is a primary treatment option for various types of cancer. This type of surgery serves several purposes, including:
- Diagnosing cancer by obtaining a tissue sample for examination.
- Treating cancer either alone or in combination with other treatments.
- Reducing the risk of developing a specific type of cancer, particularly if there is already a high risk present.
Treatment Eligibility and Considerations
Not everyone with cancer can have surgery as a treatment option. It is often the main treatment for cancer, but it depends on several factors, such as:
Cancer Type: Some types of cancer, like leukemia and lymphoma, cannot be treated with surgery because they have already spread throughout the body.
Location of the Cancer: In some cases, surgery may not be possible if the cancer is near delicate tissues or vital organs. Removing the cancer could cause harm to these critical areas.
Cancer Stage: The size of the cancer and whether it has spread to other parts of the body (stage) will determine if surgery is the best option or if other treatments like chemotherapy, targeted drugs, hormone therapy, or radiotherapy would be more suitable.
General Health: Your overall health and medical condition also play a role in deciding if surgery is a safe and effective treatment for your cancer.
In situations where surgery is not appropriate, other treatments are considered to target cancer cells throughout the body effectively.
These treatments may include
which can help shrink tumors and manage symptoms.
The decision about the best treatment approach is made by the medical team after considering all these factors.
Surgery for Diagnosing Cancer
One way to aid in diagnosing cancer is through surgery. Often, the only definitive method to determine if a person has cancer and its specific type is by extracting a small piece of tissue (known as a sample) for testing.
The diagnosis involves examining the cells from the sample under a microscope or conducting other laboratory tests.
This procedure is called a biopsy, and when performed during surgery, it is referred to as a surgical biopsy.
The method used to take the sample varies based on the location of the tumor and the suspected type of cancer.
For instance, prostate biopsies are conducted differently from lung biopsies.
Surgery for Staging Cancer
Staging surgery is performed to determine the size of the cancer and its spread in the body.
During this procedure, the surgeon examines the area surrounding the cancer, including nearby organs and lymph nodes.
This crucial step provides essential information to guide treatment decisions and predict how individuals will respond to the chosen treatment plan.
In early-stage cancers where the tumor is localized and has not spread to other parts of the body, curative surgery aims to completely remove the cancerous tissue and provide a potential cure.
The surgeon will remove the tumor along with a margin of healthy tissue to ensure that no cancer cells are left behind.
Sometimes, a tumor may be too large or located in a way that makes complete removal difficult or risky.
In such cases, debulking surgery is performed to remove as much of the tumor as possible.
While it may not cure the cancer entirely, it can help reduce the tumor burden and make other treatments like chemotherapy and radiation more effective.
Preventive (Prophylactic) Surgery
Preventive or prophylactic surgery involves the removal of body tissue that is at a high risk of developing cancer, even in the absence of any current cancer signs.
In certain cases, the entire organ may be removed if an individual has a condition that significantly increases their chances of developing cancer in that specific organ.
The primary goal of this surgery is to lower the risk of cancer and help prevent its occurrence, although it cannot guarantee complete cancer prevention.
For instance, some women with a strong family history of breast cancer may carry an inherited genetic mutation in breast cancer genes (BRCA1 or BRCA2).
Due to the substantially elevated risk of breast cancer, some individuals might consider undergoing a prophylactic mastectomy, which involves the removal of both breasts before cancer is detected.
It is a type of surgery used to address problems caused by advanced cancer. It is often combined with other treatments to relieve discomfort or disabilities caused by the cancer.
For instance, some cancers in the abdomen can grow large enough to block the intestine, leading to digestive problems.
Palliative surgery can be used to remove the blockage and restore normal bowel function.
Additionally, palliative surgery may be employed to manage pain that is difficult to control with medications.
The primary goal of palliative surgery is to ease the problems caused by cancer and improve the person’s overall well-being.
However, because the cancer is usually in an advanced stage, this surgery is not performed with the intention of treating or curing the cancer itself.
Instead, it focuses on enhancing the quality of life for the individual by addressing cancer-related issues.
It is performed to facilitate and improve the administration of other types of treatment.
For instance, a vascular access device like a Port-A-Cath or Infusaport is a slender and flexible tube that can be surgically inserted into a large vein and connected to a small drum-like device positioned just under the skin.
This device allows medical professionals to easily access the bloodstream without repeatedly using needles in the hands and arms.
With the port in place, treatments such as IV fluids, blood transfusions, or other therapies can be delivered and blood can be drawn conveniently through the port’s needle, offering a more comfortable and efficient experience for patients during their treatment journey.
Restorative (Reconstructive) Surgery
It is performed to improve a person’s appearance after undergoing major cancer surgery.
It is also used to restore the function of an organ or body part that may have been affected during the surgical procedure.
For instance, after a mastectomy, breast reconstruction can be done to help restore the shape of the breast.
In some cases, tissue flaps, bone grafts, or prosthetic materials (such as metal or plastic) may be used to reconstruct areas affected by head and neck cancers, allowing the person to regain normal function and appearance.
In a Nutshell
It’s essential to note that not all cancer cases require surgery, and the use of it as a treatment approach depends on various factors, including the type and stage of cancer, the patient’s overall health, and the expertise of the medical team.
In many cases, cancer treatment is multidisciplinary, involving a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, and other targeted therapies to achieve the best possible outcome for the patient.
The treatment plan is individualized for each patient and discussed thoroughly with the medical team and the patient to make informed decisions.