When do doctors use surgery to treat cancer?
Cancer surgery is when doctors operate to remove cancerous tumors. Usually, doctors operate only when:
The cancer hasn't spread (metastasized) anywhere
Your body is strong enough to go through surgery
If your cancer hasn’t spread through your body, surgery may cure you. But once the cancer has spread, cutting out the original cancer won't cure you. The remaining cancer will continue to grow and spread. Your doctor will do tests before surgery to see if the cancer has spread. You may have a CT (computed tomography) scan Computed Tomography A CT scan uses a large machine shaped like a large donut to take x-rays from many angles. A computer then takes the x-rays and creates many detailed pictures of the inside of your body. Each... read more , MRI Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) MRI is a test that uses a machine with a powerful magnet to make pictures of the inside of your body. A computer creates a series of detailed pictures. Each picture looks like a slice taken... read more (magnetic resonance imaging), or other tests.
However, those tests can't find microscopic bits of cancer. So, during surgery, your doctor often takes out lymph nodes that are near the tumor. Lymph nodes are tiny bean-shaped organs that are part of your body's immune defenses. Cancer often first spreads to these nearby lymph nodes. The laboratory will test the lymph nodes to see whether the cancer has started to spread.
Taking out lymph nodes that have cancer in them (the lymph nodes are "positive") doesn't help cure you
If the cancer is in lymph nodes that your doctor removed, almost always the cancer has spread to other places too
If your doctor knows your lymph nodes are positive for cancer, then you may get other treatments such as chemotherapy Chemotherapy Chemotherapy is a drug that destroys cancer cells. Chemotherapy works by shutting down cell growth. But since all cells in the body grow, chemotherapy drugs also destroy some normal cells and... read more or radiation Radiation Therapy for Cancer Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment that uses beams of radiation to destroy cancer cells and shrink cancer tumors. Doctors use radiation to treat many types of cancer, including head, neck... read more .
If I have surgery, do I need any other treatments?
After your tumor has been removed, you may have more surgery. For example, after a mastectomy (removal of a breast) to treat breast cancer, you may have surgery to rebuild the shape and look of your breast, called breast reconstruction.
Depending on what type of cancer you have, your doctor may also give you:
You may get these treatments before or after your surgery.