31 January, 2020

What is Cancer Surgery?

A healthy cell, divides, lives on for some time and then dies off. That is the normal cycle of a cell’s life. Now, due to some mutation in the DNA of a cell, it can replicate itself through cell division incessantly and wouldn’t die that would ultimately lead to the formation of a lump or tumour. This medical condition is called cancer.

One of the most efficient ways to arrest cancer and the spread of the disease is to surgically remove the lump or tumour from the body of the patient before it could harm the same and cause irreversible damage to the patient’s vital organs thus leading to death.

Cancer surgery involves not only the removal of the tumour but also some of the healthy tissue around the tumour.

Now, one can ask why the surgeon is removing healthy tissue along with the tumour. Well, it is sort of like an insurance policy as the cancerous cells might have invaded nearby healthy tissue and is lying dormant. If it is not removed, one cancerous cell could trigger the formation of yet another tumour and ultimately, the patient will be looking at another surgery.

Cancer surgery is a procedure to remove the tumour, as well as nearby tissues containing cancer cells. A surgeon who treats cancer with surgery is called surgical oncologist. There are many reasons to go for surgery:

  1. To remove some or all cancer cells
  2. To relieve cancer side effects
  3. To figure out where cancer cells are located
  4. To restore the body’s function or appearance
  5. To find out whether cancer cells have spread or affected the function of other body organs

You may get the surgery done in a doctor’s clinic, hospital or surgery centre. Wherever you have surgery depends on the type of cancer surgery you’re going for and how much time will be needed for the operation.

How the surgery is performed? Surgeons use small, thin knife-like tools, called scalpels, to cut the body during surgery. During the operation, a cut is made onto the skin or muscles for treating certain conditions like cancer.


What is Surgery in Cancer?

For operation, a patient is taken to the operation theatre, put under anaesthesia and surgery is performed to remove the tumour. For some cancers, the debulking process is done, where the whole tumour is not possible to remove but only a part of it is removed. Even benign growths are removed during surgery.

Types of Surgery for Cancer Treatment

There are different types of cancer surgeries for helping people with cancer. Some of these surgical procedures are done in combination with other cancer treatments.

Following are the major types of cancer surgeries or treatments:

Curative surgery: Curative surgery is done to remove cancer-causing tumour or growth from an organ in your body. Surgeons make use of curative surgery when cancerous cells are localized to a certain area in your body. This cancer treatment is considered the primary treatment. However, other cancer treatments are followed up, such as radiation, after the surgery.

Preventive surgery: The preventive surgery is performed for removing a tissue that doesn’t contain any cancer cells but may develop into cancer. For instance, polyps within colour are considered precancerous tissues and removed with the help of preventative surgery.

Diagnostic surgery: A diagnostic surgery for cancer treatment is performed for determining whether cells in an organ, tissue or other parts are cancerous. The diagnostic surgery helps in removing a tissue sample from the patient’s body for testing and evaluating it in a pathology laboratory. This sample tissue will help in confirming or identifying whether the organ or tissue contains cancer cells or what state of cancer a patient has developed so far.

Staging surgery: It is a more precise form of surgery, which is done to determine the extent to which cancer has spread in a patient’s body. A laparoscope (a tiny tube with a video camera or lens is inserted into the body through a small incision for examining inside body parts or to remove a tissue sample) is one of the common examples of a staging surgical procedure.

Debulking surgery: It is a type of cancer surgery that is performed to remove a small portion, not all, of the cancerous tumours. This surgical procedure is used only in specific situations where removing tumour could be dangerous to the entire organ or body. Another type of cancer treatment procedures like chemotherapy or radiation therapy is followed up with this procedure.

Palliative surgery: The use of palliative surgery is done for treating cancer at later or advanced stages. It may not work for curing cancer but just to relieve pain or discomfort or other problems associated with cancer or cancer treatment.

Supportive surgery: Supportive surgery is somewhat similar to palliative surgery. This is because it is not for curing cancer. Instead, it is done to make other cancer treatments work effectively. One example of using supportive surgery is using the insertion of a catheter for helping patients with chemotherapy.


Restorative surgery: This surgery is done as a follow-up to other surgeries or to restore a patient’s appearance or functioning of a body organ. For instance, women who undergo breast cancer may like to go for breast reconstruction surgery for restoring the shape of their affected breast. The curative surgery for oral cancer can be done to restore the appearance and shape of a patient’s mouth. Restorative surgery is done just to address the effects of surgery.

Cryosurgery: This surgery uses extreme techniques like cold temperature to kill cancer cells. The cryosurgery is performed usually to treat cervical cancer or skin cancer. Depending on the presence of tumour inside or outside an organ, liquid nitrogen is put on the skin or on an instrument called cryoprobe, which is further inserted into the body to touch tumour. Cryosurgery has been evaluated as a major surgical cure for many types of cancers.

Laser surgery: The laser surgery is a technique that makes use of light energy beams, instead of instruments, for removing cancer cells (without damaging the nearby tissues). This treatment/procedure is done either to destroy, activate drugs or shrink small cancer cells. The laser surgery is an accurate and precise treatment for curing body areas that are difficult to reach, including rectum, cervix, skin and larynx.

Electrosurgery: Oral cancer and skin cancer can be treated with the help of electrosurgery. This treatment/procedure makes use of electrical current for removing cancer cells.

Microscopically controlled surgery: This cancer surgery is done when cancer has affected delicate body parts, such as the eye. Layers of skin are removed and examined under a microscope until the cancer is detected for treatment.

What are the Advantages of Surgery for Cancer?

  1. Removal of a large volume of cancer cells or tumours that cannot be treated with radiation or chemotherapy.
  2. Potential ability to eliminate all cancer cells from a small area.
  3. Check how a patient responds to the treatment.
  4. Convenience for the cancer patient, as surgery is done in just one day when the patient is asleep.

What to Expect Before, During and After Surgery

Before Surgery

At this time, a nurse may help you prepare for the surgery. He or she may inform you about the tests and examinations you need to undergo before surgery. Some common tests to perform are:

  1. Chest x-ray
  2. Blood tests
  3. Electrocardiogram (ECG)

You may also not be able to drink or eat anything for certain duration during these tests or surgery. If you don’t follow the conditions, the surgery may need to be rescheduled.


During Surgery

When you are under anaesthesia, the oncologist surgeon will remove cancer, along with some surrounding tissues. Even healthy tissues are removed to ensure cancer has been removed completely.

Sometimes, a surgeon may also remove lymph nodes near the tumour. These nodes will be checked under a microscope to find cancer cells. If nearby nodes include cancer, they need to be removed to avoid further dispersal of cancer.

After Surgery

After surgery, your nurse will help you with the following:

  1. How to manage pain
  2. Activities you must follow and avoid
  3. How to take care of healing wound
  4. How to find out signs of infection and measures to control them
  5. When to return to work after recovery
  6. Special diet to follow after the surgery

You are required to visit once or more times for check-up after the surgery. For complex surgeries, the patient needs to see the doctor more often. When the stitches are removed, the doctor checks the area to find any infection and ensure you’re healing as you are supposed to.

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