Cancer surgery

Surgery is the first option in the treatment of many firm malignant tumours. Surgery to treat cancer removes the cancerous tumour and the healthy tissue surrounding it to prevent the spread of the tumour locally.

During surgery doctors are able to find out whether the cancer has spread to nearby tissue and lymph nodes. If necessary, nearby lymphatic vessels and lymph nodes are removed during surgery.

The extent of surgery to treat cancer and its successful outcome vary according to the type of cancer, its stage, size, distribution and location. Surgery performed in the early stages of cancer result in fairly good treatment outcomes.

Surgery may be the only form of treatment you have, but it is often accompanied by radiotherapy, drug therapy, such as cytotoxic drugs, or both. Combination therapy is used, because cancer cells can become detached from the tumour and pass elsewhere in the body, sometimes even at a very early stage, which surgery is unable to prevent. Supplementary, or adjuvant, treatment is used to destroy detached cancer cells.

Sometimes surgery does not aim to remove the entire tumour. If the tumour mass is sizeable, surgery may be used to reduce the size of the tumour so that it can be eradicated by chemotherapy of radiotherapy. Metastases from the primary tumour can also be removed surgically.

Tumours are sometimes located in such awkward positions that they cannot be completely incised or at all. With some cancers surgery is not an option. They include blood cancers that do not form a solid tumour.

Surgery used to treat cancer at different stages

Radical surgery

Radical or curative surgery involves the removal of the entire detectable tumour. Radical surgery aims to operate on cancers so that you are cured of it.

Surgery for symptomatic relief

Surgery aims to relieve the symptoms caused by cancer. Examples of surgery for symptomatic relief are procedures to bypass or open up obstructions of the bile duct or intestine caused by cancer.

Conserving surgery

Nowadays many surgical treatments for cancer favour what is called conserving surgery. For instance, conserving breast cancer surgery aims to avoid removing the breast. But if the cancer has advanced to a certain stage, conserving surgery is not an option.

Surgery for metastases

Some metastases can be removed by surgery, for instance from the liver, lungs or bones.

Recurrent cancer surgery

If possible, locally recurrent cancer is removed surgically. Radiotherapy and/or chemotherapy are given following surgery, unless they had already been given earlier.

Surgery for cancer prevention

Nowadays, various forms of preventive surgery can be used to prevent some cancers or remove cancer precursors. Preventive surgery can, for instance, treat colorectal cancer precursors. Women with the so-called breast cancer gene can also have a preventive mastectomy.

Reconstructive surgery

In some cancer cases a part of the body has to be removed surgically, such as a breast or testicle. Reconstructive surgery can replace the part of the body either using tissue from the patient’s own body or using external material, such as silicone.

Reconstructive surgery in breast cancer (in Finnish)

Reconstructive surgery can significantly improve the patients’ quality of life. It is nowadays carried out as early as possible.

 

Sources

Joensuu, Heikki; Jyrkkiö, Sirkku; Kellokumpu-Lehtinen, Pirkko-Liisa; Kouri, Mauri; Roberts, Peter J. & Teppo, Lyly (toim.) (2013) Syöpätaudit. Helsinki: Kustannus Oy Duodecim.

Suomen Syöpäpotilaat ry. Selviytyjän matkaopas. Helsinki, 2014.