Surgical treatment of cancer

Christer Sundqvist

One of the most important cancer treatments is that the cancer is surgically removed (surgical treatment). Malignant tumors, such as cancerous growth and sarcoma, are traditionally treated primarily by surgery. This is done to prevent cancer growth. Often, some healthy tissue must also be removed around the cancer. This is done to prevent the spread of the tumor.

Nowadays, attempts are made to remove as little healthy tissue as possible. For example, the goal is to operate breast cancer without having to remove the entire chest. However, if the cancer has spread too far, it is not possible to go on with such a conservative surgery. Sometimes the surrounding tissues must be completely removed. Sometimes entire internal organs are also removed (radical surgery). In radical surgery all detectable tumors and a portion of the surrounding healthy tissue is removed. Radical surgery aims to completely eliminate the cancer. If the area is large which remains when the tumor is removed, it is possible to fill up with adjacent tissue. Often the lymph nodes and vessels are removed from the cancer and if necessary removed also near the cancer growth.

A successful cancer operation is characterized by knowledge of the type of cancer, its spread and its location in the body. When the surgery is done at an early stage, the cancer’s prognosis is quite good.

The cancer surgery can be the only treatment you get, but often radiotherapy is given and drug treatments are also started. Such combinational therapy is necessary because cancer cells can begin to spread to other parts of the body at a very early stage, and this cannot be prevented by surgery.

Sometimes the tumors are in such troublesome places that they cannot be operated completely or even partially. Some cancers cannot be operated at all, such as eg. cancer of the blood system (leukemia) that does not at all form solid tumors.

Cancer symptoms can be alleviated by surgery. An example of a relief operation is to open a clogged bile duct or an intestinal obstruction in patients with cancer of the pancreas.

With metastasis operations, certain metastases can be removed, for example, from the liver, lungs or bone. Often there are so many metastases or they are in such difficult places that the surgeon is forced to give up.

Nowadays, with various operations, one can prevent certain cancers or remove precursors to cancer. Preventive surgery can be used to treat bowel cancer precursors. For example, the person carrying the so-called breast cancer gene can completely remove her breasts.

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