Surgery  , when used to treat cancer, is a procedure in which a surgeon removes cancer from your body. Surgeons are medical doctors with special training in surgery.
How Surgery Is Performed
Surgeons often use small, thin knives, called scalpels, and other sharp tools to cut your body during surgery. Surgery often requires cuts through skin, muscles, and sometimes bone. After surgery, these cuts can be painful and take some time to recover from.
Anesthesia keeps you from feeling pain during surgery. Anesthesia refers to drugs or other substances that cause you to lose feeling or awareness. There are three types of anesthesia:
•Local anesthesia causes loss of feeling in one small area of the body.
•Regional anesthesia causes loss of feeling in a part of the body, such as an arm or leg.
•General anesthesia causes loss of feeling and a complete loss of awareness that seems like a very deep sleep.
There are other ways of performing surgery that do not involve cuts with scalpels. Some of these include:
Cryosurgery is a type of treatment in which extreme cold produced by liquid nitrogen or argon gas is used to destroy abnormal tissue.Cryosurgery may be used to treat early-stage skin cancer, retinoblastoma, and precancerous growths on the skin and cervix. Cryosurgery is also called cryotherapy.
This is a type of treatment in which powerful beams of light are used to cut through tissue. Lasers can focus very accurately on tiny areas, so they can be used for precise surgeries. Lasers can also be used to shrink or destroy tumors or growths that might turn into cancer.
Lasers are most often used to treat tumors on the surface of the body or on the inside lining of internal organs. Examples include basal cell carcinoma, cervical changes that might turn into cancer, and cervical, vaginal, esophageal, and non-small cell lung cancer.
Hyperthermia is a type of treatment in which small areas of body tissue are exposed to high temperatures. The high heat can damage and kill cancer cells or make them more sensitive to radiation and certain chemotherapy drugs. Radiofrequency ablation is one type of hyperthermia that uses high-energy radio waves to generate heat. Hyperthermia is not widely available and is being studied in clinical trials.
Photodynamic therapy is a type of treatment that uses drugs which react to a certain type of light. When the tumor is exposed to this light, these drugs become active and kill nearby cancer cells. Photodynamic therapy is used most often to treat or relieve symptoms caused by skin cancer, mycosis fungoides, and non-small cell lung cancer.
Types of Surgery
There are many types of surgery. The types differ based on the purpose of the surgery, the part of the body that requires surgery, the amount of tissue to be removed, and, in some cases, what the patient prefers.
Surgery may be open or minimally invasive.
•In open surgery, the surgeon makes one large cut to remove the tumor, some healthy tissue, and maybe some nearby lymph nodes.
•In minimally invasive surgery, the surgeon makes a few small cuts instead of one large one. She inserts a long, thin tube with a tiny camera into one of the small cuts. This tube is called a laparoscope. The camera projects images from the inside of the body onto a monitor, which allows the surgeon to see what she is doing. She uses special surgery tools that are inserted through the other small cuts to remove the tumor and some healthy tissue.
Many people with cancer are treated with surgery. Surgery works best for solid tumors that are contained in one area. It is a local treatment, meaning that it treats only the part of your body with the cancer. It is not used for leukemia (a type of blood cancer) or for cancers that have spread.
Sometimes surgery will be the only treatment you need. But most often, you will also have other cancer treatments.
How Surgery Works against Cancer
Depending on your type of cancer and how advanced it is, surgery can be used to:
•Remove the entire tumor
Surgery removes cancer that is contained in one area.
•Debulk a tumor
Surgery removes some, but not all, of a cancer tumor. Debulking is used when removing an entire tumor might damage an organ or the body. Removing part of a tumor can help other treatments work better.
•Ease cancer symptoms
Surgery is used to remove tumors that are causing pain or pressure.
Risks of Surgery
Surgeons are highly trained and will do everything they can to prevent problems during surgery. Even so, sometimes problems do occur. Common problems are:
After surgery, most people will have pain in the part of the body that was operated on. How much pain you feel will depend on the extent of the surgery, the part of your body where you had surgery, and how you feel pain.
Your doctor or nurse can help you manage pain after surgery. Talk with your doctor or nurse before surgery about ways to control pain. After surgery, tell them if your pain is not controlled.
For more information, see our booklet, Pain Control.
Infection is another problem that can happen after surgery. To help prevent infection, follow your nurse’s instructions about caring for the area where you had surgery. If you do develop an infection, your doctor can prescribe a medicine (called an antibiotic) to treat it.
Other risks of surgery include bleeding, damage to nearby tissues, and reactions to the anesthesia. Talk to your doctor about possible risks for the type of surgery you will have.