Surgery is a Treatment for Cancer

Surgery is a Treatment for Cancer

Many people have been asking if surgery is a treatment for cancer. The answer is yes, but not for all types and depending on some factors. Radiation therapy and chemotherapy are the most widely known treatments for cancer. Surgery is often combined with these treatments. According to Cancer Research UK, surgery is often the main treatment for cancer and can be had on its own. However, doctors recommend radiation therapy before or after surgery. ​​Radiation therapy before surgery may make the tumor smaller and reduce the amount of normal tissue that needs to be removed, that is according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Nonetheless, the combination of treatments depends on the type of cancer, stage, size, location, and the patient’s other health issues.

To better understand cancer surgery, let us look into its types and uses. In addition, let us name the deciding factors for having surgery as a treatment for cancer. Finally, get to know the different procedures doctors use to perform cancer surgery.

CenterPoint Radiation Oncology blog post: Surgery is a Treatment for Cancer

Types of Surgery as a Treatment for Cancer

The following is the list of different types of cancer surgery and their uses. Many of these types do not solely work to cure cancer but are used in combination with other treatments. Moreover, some totally do not function as main cancer treatments but only parts of them.


When the cancerous tumor is localized (found only at a specific area of the body), surgeons perform curative surgery. The goal is to remove all cancerous tissues. This type of cancer surgery can be had on its own. Combining it with other treatments may be ordered by the doctor, especially if the cancer is found out to likely spread or have already spread to other parts of the body. To know which other treatments to recommend, doctors perform blood tests or perform surgery of the lymph nodes in the area where the tumor was found. They test those lymph nodes for cancer. Cancer found in the lymph nodes is an indication that the cancer could spread to other parts of the body.


The goal of diagnostic surgery is to determine whether or not cells are cancerous. A surgeon removes a tissue sample which is sent to a pathologist for evaluation.The tissue sample determines the diagnosis, cancer type, and cancer stage.


Staging surgery reveals the extent of the cancer in the body. Laparoscopy is one of the procedures used for this purpose.


When removing an entire tumor poses a risk of damaging an organ or the body as a whole, doctors resort to debulking surgery. They remove only a safe portion of the tumor. Since the entire tumor is not removed, this type of cancer surgery is typically followed by other treatments such as radiation therapy or chemotherapy.


An example of restorative surgery is the one performed to women with breast cancer. After a curative surgery, doctors perform restorative surgery to restore the shape of the affected breast.


Palliative surgery is not a cancer cure. Instead, it works to lessen discomfort or to correct problems that cancer or cancer treatments may have brought about.


One example of supportive surgery is the insertion of a vascular access device, such as catheter, to cancer patients receiving chemotherapy. Similar to palliative surgery, supportive surgery is a type of cancer surgery that does not work to cure cancer.


Preventive surgery is done by removing non-cancerous tissues for the purpose of preventing the development of a malignant tumor. For example, actinic keratosis, a pre cancer skin disorder, can be treated by surgery. Another example of preventive surgery is breast removal in people who have a high risk of developing breast cancer based on factors such as age, family or personal history, and exposure to certain drugs.

Surgery as part of other treatments

Doctors may perform surgery on cancer patients in order to administer other treatments. The following are the specialized cancer treatments that require surgery, according to Stanford Healthcare.

  1. Cryosurgery

    Extremely cold temperatures in cryosurgery kill cancer cells. Liquid nitrogen is placed on the skin if cancer is outside the body. On the other hand, an instrument called a cryoprobe is inserted into the body to reach the tumor inside. To this date, cryosurgery is being studied as a treatment for several types of cancers. Currently, it is used most often with skin and cervical cancers.

  2. Laser surgery

    The best use of laser surgery is on hard-to-reach areas of the body, such as the cervix, larynx, and skin. In laser surgery, light energy beams replace instruments in performing cancer treatment. This technique helps to shrink or destroy tumors or activate drugs that kill cancer cells.

  3. Electrosurgery

    Electrosurgery is a technique that uses electrical current to destroy cancer cells, particularly in the skin and in the mouth.

  4. Microscopically controlled surgery

    The eyes are a very sensitive part of the body, and if cancer affects it, the microscopical removal and examination of skin layers is performed. This technique is done repeatedly until there are no more signs of cancer.

CenterPoint Radiation Oncology blog post: Surgery is a Treatment for Cancer

Deciding Factors for Having Surgery as a Treatment for Cancer

Cancer Research UK specifies that treatment options vary from one person to another depending on their cancer type, their cancer size, stage, location of cancer in their body, and their overall health.

Surgery is not an option for certain types of cancer, such as leukemia and lymphoma. Generally speaking, cancer that has spread to many different parts of the body cannot be treated with surgery. Thus, leukemia and lymphoma, which are not localized types of cancer, need other types of treatment instead.

If the cancer is in a critical location, as in a vital organ, debulking surgery may be an option. Otherwise, any type of surgery becomes out of the question if it poses too much risk.

Localized cancer that has already spread to other parts of the body may not benefit from surgery alone. Chemotherapy may be the best option. Also, radiation therapy may help to shrink the tumor and alleviate symptoms.

A man about to get MRI scan featured in CenterPoint Radiation Oncology blog post: Surgery is a Treatment for Cancer

Procedures Doctors Use to Perform Surgery as a Treatment for Cancer

Surgeons may use one or a combination of two or more ways to perform cancer surgery.

  1. Open surgery – a large incision is made through the skin to reach the affected area
  2. Laparoscopic surgery – small cuts are made through the skin (keyhole surgery).
  3. Robotic Surgery – surgery is aided by a robot and a 3D imaging system that surgeons control and use away from the operating table.
  4. Endoscopic surgery – An endoscope is used to remove or kill cancer tissues.

Always Consult Your Healthcare Provider

Surgery as a treatment for cancer is a procedure that can likely be followed by some negative effects, such as pain, loss of organ function, or infection. Furthermore, the severity of the negative effects vary from person to person. Thus, it is best to receive the necessary preparations and recovery advice from your healthcare provider.

For more information about cancer and cancer treatments, listen to Dr. Rosalyn Morrell’s Podcast.

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