Surgery is an operation to diagnose or treat cancer by repairing or removing the cancerous tumor and some connected healthy tissue. Surgery was the earliest form of cancer treatment and it is still commonly used (with more skill). Thanks to advances in personalizing surgical techniques, there are different types of surgery that can work for each individual. It’s important to learn about the different types and discuss with your loved one and his or her health care team which option might be best. 

Surgery may be used alone or in combination with other cancer treatments. Common side effects from surgery are specific to the type of surgery done. Examples could include:

  • pain (often temporary)
  • fatigue
  • the risk of infection at the surgical site
  • scarring

Different Purposes of Surgery

Diagnosis – In a surgical procedure called a biopsy, all or part of a tumor is removed so that it can be studied under a microscope.

Staging – Staging surgery can help define how advanced cancer is through evaluation of the size of a tumor and spread of the disease.

Primary Treatment – For tumors that are localized and show no evidence of spread, surgery is the primary treatment. The goal of this surgery is to cure the cancer by completely removing the tumor.

Debulking – A surgical procedure may be used to reduce the size of a tumor that cannot be completely removed, allowing chemotherapy or radiation therapy to work more effectively.

Palliation – Surgery is performed to relieve symptoms by removing part of a tumor that is pressing on a nerve or causing an obstruction.

Reconstruction – Reconstructive surgery helps restore the function or appearance of an area of the body where a tumor was located.

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