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Why surgery for cancer treatment?

According to the American Cancer Society, surgery is the oldest form of cancer treatment. Surgery is used in cancer treatment for several purposes:

  • Preventive. To remove tissue that does not yet contain cancer cells, but has the probability of becoming cancerous in the future. This may also be referred to as prophylactic surgery.

  • Diagnostic. To remove samples of tissue from a suspicious area for testing and evaluation (in a laboratory by a pathologist) to confirm a diagnosis, identify the type of cancer, or determine the stage of the cancer.

  • Curative. To remove or destroy cancerous tissue, which may include removal of some tissue around the tumor and nearby lymph nodes.

Surgery may also be performed for:

  • Palliative purposes. To relieve discomfort.

  • Supportive purposes. To allow for placement of a device that will aid in the delivery of medications.

  • Restorative or reconstructive purposes. To repair or replace damaged or destroyed areas of the body.

What types of surgery are used in the treatment of cancer?

Examples of types of surgical procedures used to diagnose or destroy cancerous tissue include:

  • Biopsy. Removal of sample of tissue via a hollow needle or scalpel.

  • Endoscopy. Use of a very flexible tube with a lens or camera (and a light on the end), which is connected to a computer screen, allowing the physician to see inside the hollow organs, such as the bladder. Biopsy samples can be taken through the tube.

  • Laparoscopy. Use of a viewing tube with a lens or camera (and a light on the end), which is inserted through a small incision in the abdomen to examine the contents of the abdomen and remove tissue samples.

  • Laparotomy. A surgical procedure that involves an incision across the abdomen; often used when making a diagnosis by less invasive tests is difficult.

  • Laser surgery. Use of a powerful beam of light, which can be directed to specific parts of the body without making a large incision, to destroy abnormal cells.

  • Cryosurgery. Use of liquid nitrogen, or a probe that is very cold, to freeze and kill cancer cells.

  • Electrosurgery. Use of high-frequency electrical currents to destroy cancer cells.

  • Excisional. Cutting away cancerous tissue with a scalpel or other instruments to completely remove it and possibly some surrounding tissue. There are many types of excisional surgeries, each named for the particular area of the body in which they are performed or the particular purpose for which they are performed.