Notice: Users may be experiencing issues with displaying some pages on stanfordhealthcare.org. We are working closely with our technical teams to resolve the issue as quickly as possible. Thank you for your patience.
What Are the Different Types of Surgery Used in Cancer Treatment?
Several types of surgery are helpful to people with cancer. Some surgeries are used in combination with other types of treatment. Types of surgeries include:
Curative surgery removes the cancerous tumor or growth from the body. Surgeons use curative surgery when the cancerous tumor is localized to a specific area of the body. This type of treatment is often considered the primary treatment. However, other types of cancer treatments, such as radiation, may be used before or after the surgery.
Preventive surgery is used to remove tissue that does not contain cancerous cells, but may develop into a malignant tumor. For example, polyps in the colon may be considered precancerous tissue and preventative surgery may be performed to remove them.
Diagnostic surgery Diagnostic surgery helps to determine whether cells are cancerous. Diagnostic surgery is used to remove a tissue sample for testing and evaluation (in a laboratory by a pathologist). The tissue samples help to confirm a diagnosis, identify the type of cancer, or determine the stage of the cancer.
Staging surgery works to uncover the extent of cancer, or the extent of the disease in the body. Laparoscopy (a viewing tube with a lens or camera is inserted through a small incision to examine the inside of the body and to remove tissue samples) is an example of a surgical staging procedure.
Debulking surgery removes a portion, though not all, of a cancerous tumor. It is used in certain situations when removing an entire tumor may cause damage to an organ or the body. Other types of cancer treatment, such as chemotherapy and radiation, may be used after debulking surgery is performed.
Palliative surgery Palliative surgery is used to treat cancer at advanced stages. It does not work to cure cancer, but to relieve discomfort or to correct other problems cancer or cancer treatment may have created.
Supportive surgery Supportive surgery is similar to palliative surgery because it does not work to cure cancer. Instead, it helps other cancer treatments work effectively. An example of supportive surgery is the insertion of a catheter to help with chemotherapy.
Restorative surgery Restorative surgery is sometimes used as a follow-up to curative or other surgeries to change or restore a person’s appearance or the function of a body part. For example, women with breast cancer sometimes need breast reconstruction surgery to restore the physical shape of the affected breast(s). Curative surgery for oral cancer can cause a change in the shape and appearance of a person’s mouth. Restorative surgery may be performed to address these effects.
Can other types of surgery help treat cancer?
There are several specialized surgeries used during cancer treatment. The following is a list of some of these surgical treatments:
This surgery technique uses extremely cold temperatures to kill cancer cells. Cryosurgery is used most often with skin cancer and cervical cancer. Depending on whether the tumor is inside or outside the body, liquid nitrogen is placed on the skin or in an instrument called a cryoprobe (which is inserted into the body so that it touches the tumor). Cryosurgery is being evaluated as a surgical treatment for several types of cancers.
This technique uses beams of light energy instead of instruments to remove very small cancers (without damaging surrounding tissue), to shrink or destroy tumors, or to activate drugs to kill cancer cells. Laser surgery is a very precise procedure that can be used to treat areas of the body that are difficult to reach including the skin, cervix, rectum, and larynx.
Electrosurgery Skin cancer and oral cancer are sometimes treated with electrosurgery. This technique uses electrical current to kill cancer cells.
Microscopically controlled surgery
This surgery is useful when cancer affects delicate parts of the body, such as the eye. Layers of skin are removed and examined microscopically until cancerous cells cannot be detected.