Surgery has been used to diagnose and/or treat cancer for many years, and most people with cancer will have some kind of surgery. Cancer-related surgery may be performed for a variety of purposes, including:
A biopsy is used to detect or confirm the presence of cancer. The surgeon removes a sample of tissue, cells or fluid so that pathologist can examine it under a microscope. The pathologist determines whether cancer is present; if so, the pathologist will identify the kind of cancer and assign it a stage, based on the size of the tumor, how much of the surrounding tissue affected and whether the cancer has spread. This information is used to make decisions about the best course of treatment for each patient.
Surgery may be used to remove tissue that does not yet contain cancer cells, but is likely to become cancerous in the future. For example, a woman with a strong family history of ovarian cancer may choose to have her ovaries removed to avoid the risk of ovarian cancer, or a woman with cancer in one breast may choose to have the other breast removed as a precaution. Preventive surgeries do not guarantee that cancer will never develop and should only be considered after a careful discussion between the surgeon and the patient.
The purpose of curative surgery is to remove or destroy cancerous tissue. Curative surgery requires a more aggressive approach. A certain amount of normal tissue as well as cancerous tissue may be removed to help ensure that all of the cancer is removed. If any cancer cells are behind, the cancer may recur. To help ensure that all of the cancer is removed , the surgeon may remove all or part of the organ of origin, as well as the lymph nodes that are adjacent to the tumor.
Cancer and its treatment causes pain to most patients. Patients with advanced disease may experience more pain, which diminishes their quality of life. The purpose of palliative surgery is mainly to reduce pain rather than eradicate cancer tissue. For example, a nerve block procedure to interrupt pain signals in the nervous system, or a stent placement to alleviate obstruction are palliative procedures. They are used to improve a patient's quality of life rather than altering the course of the disease.
Reconstructive surgery is not the same as cosmetic surgery. Reconstructive surgery is usually performed to repair the damage caused by the curative surgery, as well as to improve functions of certain anatomic parts of the body. In cancer treatment, if curative surgical procedures cause any disfigurement, dysfunction or deformity, reconstructive surgery may be necessary. Breast reconstruction following surgical treatment for breast cancer is perhaps the most common example of reconstructive surgery.
Source: National Cancer Institute