Surgical oncology refers to the surgical removal of an abnormal growth of tissue, generally referred to as a solid malignancy or tumor. In deciding whether you are a candidate for cancer surgery, an oncology surgeon will consider the size, type, location, grade, and stage of the tumor.
Your age, level of fitness, and other medical problems you may have play significant roles in the decision. On your part, the more you know about cancer surgery can help you make an informed decision about whether surgery is the right treatment option for you.
A major goal of surgical oncology is to manage cancer with surgery to preserve your quality of life. According to the Oncology Nursing Society, surgery was once the only treatment for benign or cancerous solid tumors. Today, surgery for many different types of cancer continues to offer patients cancer treatment, prevention, palliative care, or the most possibility for a cure.
Surgical oncology ranges from performing minimally invasive procedures to complex cancer surgeries. In addition to discussing your surgical options with you, surgery oncology specialists employ a multi-disciplinary approach to develop and implement a treatment plan to effectively manage your cancer.
Together you and a surgical oncologist will decide if surgery is a viable treatment option to stop your cancer from advancing and becoming more serious. When if surgery is required, the next step is to determine the degree of surgical intervention needed.
If you are in an early stage and your cancer is low grade, the surgeon will remove the tumor and some of the surrounding tissue. Removal of nearby tissue helps stop the spread of the disease and prevent the tumor from recurring at the site.
For cancer that is more advanced, the surgeon will need to remove more surrounding tissue, both normal tissue and tissue invaded by cancer. Still, the goal is to leave as much healthy tissue intact as possible.
While it’s important to remove the entire tumor and an amount of surrounding healthy tissue to reduce the risk of leaving behind cancer cells, surgical oncologists can’t always remove all of the tumor. In that case, your surgeon still may decide to surgically reduce the size of a malignant tumor to increase the success of radiation and chemotherapy treatments.
Even with the complete removal of a cancerous tumor, oncologists often recommend combining surgery with other cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy. Use of these treatment methods before or after surgery helps prevent a tumor from growing or keeps cancer from spreading or recurring.
Depending on the type of cancer you have, your oncologist may recommend hormone therapy along with cancer surgery. Like chemotherapy and radiation therapy, the purpose of hormone therapy is to reduce the risk of cancer coming back or slow its growth.
Although cancer surgery generally is a safe treatment option, any type of surgery poses risks. Potential complications during surgery include an adverse reaction to anesthesia, damage to the affected or a neighboring organ, and rapid or excessive blood loss.
Blood loss, infection, development of blood clots (deep vein thrombosis), pain, and illness such as pneumonia are possible post-surgical complications, according to the American Cancer Society. Complications you suffer may not necessarily be life-threatening, but they can slow your recovery and affect how quickly you heal. Yet the potential positive benefits of surgery usually outweigh the risks.
Discuss with your doctor the possible risks for the particular surgical procedure he or she recommends to treat your cancer. Ask what specific measures your surgeon and after-care team will take to minimize the risk of complications following your surgery.
Recovery after surgery involves managing any side effects, including postoperative pain. Left untreated, pain — whether from cancer or its treatment — can slow your recovery. If your doctor prescribes medication to treat your pain, take it as directed.
Avoid skipping doses or waiting for the pain to get worse before taking your medication. Otherwise, you may find it harder to manage the pain. Also, choosing not to take your medication at the regular dosing times can make it more difficult to alleviate the pain later.
Oncologists and pain management physicians now recommend other treatments for controlling pain following cancer surgery.
For temporary pain relief, your doctor may inject a local anesthetic, such as lidocaine, into your spine to block pain. A neurolytic block is another option for relieving pain. According to the British Journal of Anaesthesia, the procedure involves injecting a blocking agent near nerves to block the transmission of pain signals to the brain. Neurolytic pain relief provides lasts longer than the use of a local anesthetic.
Your doctor may also suggest alternative treatments such as physical therapy, massage therapy, guided imagery, chiropractic treatment, and acupuncture to help manage your pain.
For more information about surgical cancer care, contact the surgical oncology team of The Surgical Clinic. We will work with you in developing a cancer treatment plan that works best for your situation. For more information about surgery or preparing for surgical treatment, visit our About Surgery page to learn more.