Surgery is the oldest form of cancer treatment and remains an effective treatment method in many forms of cancer. Surgery remains one of the foundations of cancer treatment.
Surgery offers the greatest likelihood of a cure for many types of cancer, especially those that have not spread to other parts of the body. Most people with cancer will have some type of surgery. It is a common cancer treatment for breast cancer, prostate cancer, and colon cancer.
Surgery is used in cancer care in a variety of ways.
- Cancer prevention. Advanced testing techniques available today make it possible to assess the probability of a patient developing some types of cancer. If there's reason to believe that you have a high risk of developing cancer in certain tissues or organs, your doctor may recommend removing those tissues or organs before cancer develops. For example, if you have a genetic condition called familial adenomatous polyposis, your doctor may use cancer surgery to remove your colon and rectum because you have a high risk of developing colon cancer.
- Diagnosis. Surgery is also used as part of diagnosis. A surgeon may remove all or part of a tumor — allowing the tumor to be studied under a microscope — to establish whether the growth is cancerous (malignant) or noncancerous (benign).
- Staging. Cancer surgery can also help your medical team establish how advanced your cancer is. Surgery allows the doctor to evaluate the size of your tumor and determine whether it's traveled to your lymph nodes. Additional tests might be necessary to gauge your cancer's stage.
- Primary treatment. For many tumors, cancer surgery is the best chance for a cure, particularly if the cancer is localized and hasn't spread. If there's evidence that your cancer hasn't spread, your doctor may recommend surgery to remove the cancerous tumor as your primary treatment.
- Debulking. Debulking surgery removes a portion, though not all, of a cancerous tumor. It is used in certain situations when removing an entire tumor may cause damage to an organ or the body. Your doctor may remove as much as possible (debulking) in order to make chemotherapy or radiation more effective.
- Relieving symptoms or side effects. Surgery may sometimes be performed to improve quality of life in a terminal patient. For example, a surgeon might operate to relieve pain caused by a tumor that's pressing on a nerve or bone or to remove a tumor that's blocking your intestine.