Surgery is the oldest form of cancer treatment, but it is still the most successful. The type of surgery will depend on the type of cancer, its location, and the overall health of the patient. Surgery is not only used for tumor removal, but it is also used as a diagnostic tool to help stage the cancer and determine how far the cancer has spread in the body. Upon completion of treatment, it is frequently used as a restorative measure to help return the body to its original appearance. There are several types of surgery used in cancer treatment. Your healthcare provider may suggest one or more of the following options:
- Diagnostic – A surgical biopsy is often needed to confirm a cancer diagnosis. A biopsy removes a small sample of tissue which is then examined under a microscope for the presence of cancer cells.
- Staging – Surgery is often performed to find out the size of the tumor and its exact location. Lymph nodes will often be removed in a staging surgery to help determine if the cancer has spread beyond the point of origin. The location and presence of the cancer help the oncologist classify its stage.
- Primary surgery (curative) – Primary surgery removes the tumor and often the surrounding tissue. Surgery may be used by itself as the only treatment option, or it can be combined with chemotherapy, radiation therapy, hormone therapy, or targeted therapy.
- Reconstruction – Reconstruction surgery, also known as plastic surgery, is often used after a primary cancer surgery to restore the appearance of the body. It is often used following a mastectomy or in cancers located in the head and neck.
- Prevention – Some people are at higher risk for developing certain types of cancers due to their family history or exposure to certain chemicals. Poly removal is considered a preventative surgical procedure to reduce the risk of the polyp turning into colon cancer. Some women will have a mastectomy if they have been tested and found to have the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation or a family history of breast cancer.