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Surgery can be used to diagnose, treat, or even help prevent cancer in some cases. Most people with cancer will have some type of surgery. If the cancer has not spread to other parts of the body, surgery could give you the best chance for a cure.

Surgery can be used as a primary function in diagnosing cancer and help to see how far the cancer has spread (known as stages of cancer). Advances in surgical technology have permitted surgeons to operate on more patients and produce better outcomes. Invasive surgery calls for the surgeon to use incisions to access inside the body to operate. With the advancements in technology and techniques, many operations to remove tumors involve less cutting and therefore less damage to nearby organs and tissues but save as much normal tissue and function as possible.

Surgery can offer the best possibility for curing for many types of cancer, mainly cancers that have not spread to other parts of the body. A good number people with cancer will have some type of surgery.

Surgery is performed for many reasons. Some types of surgery are very minor and may be called procedures, while others are much larger operations. The more common types of cancer surgeries are:

Preventive (prophylactic) surgery

Preventive surgery is performed to eliminate body tissue that is likely to become cancerous (malignant), even though there may not be any signs of cancer at that time. Such as, during a colonoscopy, pre-cancerous polyps may be removed from the colon.

Diagnostic surgery

This surgery is performed to take tissue samples to discover if cancer is present or to find out what type of cancer it is. The doctor will look at the tissue samples under a microscope to see if there is cancer present. There are multiple procedures used to get a sample of cells from an area that appear to be cancer.

Staging surgery

Staging surgery is performed to discover how much cancer is present and how far it may have spread. Physical examinations and lab and imaging test results are used to determine the clinical stage of the cancer.

Curative surgery

Curative surgery is performed when they find a tumor in only one area, and it is probable that all of the tumor can be removed. Curative surgery can sometimes be the main treatment for the cancer found. It is sometimes used independently or in conjunction with chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Sometimes radiation therapy is actually used during an operation. (known as intraoperative radiation therapy.)

Debulking (cytoreductive) surgery

Debulking surgery is performed to remove a limited part of the tumor. It is performed when removing the tumor completely would cause extensive damage to nearby tissue or an organ. In this scenario, the doctor may remove as much of the tumor as possible and then start cancer treatment for the cancer that remains with radiation or chemotherapy. This surgery is generally used for advanced cancer of the ovary and some lymphomas.

Palliative surgery

This type of surgery is used to treat problems caused by advanced cancer. It is not done to cure the cancer. Palliative surgery can also be used to correct a problem that is causing discomfort or disability. For example, some cancers in the belly (abdomen) may grow large enough to block off (obstruct) the intestine. If this happens, surgery can be used to remove the blockage. Palliative surgery may also be used to treat pain when the pain is hard to control by other means.

Restorative (reconstructive) surgery

Restorative surgery is used to improve your appearance after major cancer surgery, or to repair the function of an organ or body part after surgery. Breast reconstruction after mastectomy or the use of tissue flaps, bone grafts, or prosthetic (metal or plastic) materials after surgery for head and neck cancers are types of reconstructive surgery.

Cancer Screening Guidelines

Screening can help doctors discover and treat some types of cancer early. Usually, cancer treatment is more effective when the disease is detected in its early stages and there could be a better chance of curing the cancer. Some...

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Learn About Your Options

Your journey with cancer is influenced by several factors. These factors include your overall condition, the specific characteristics of your cancer, and whether the goal of treatment is to eradicate your cancer, stop your cancer from spreading to other areas...

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