20 Jul, 2023

What is Cancer Surgery?

 Surgery for cancer is done to prevent, diagnose, treat, and improve the symptoms of various types of cancer. Cancer surgery is the primary line of treatment for most cancers, especially those in their early stages, and it may be combined with chemotherapy and radiation therapy as the disease progresses. Surgical management of cancer is often recommended as a part of the personalized treatment plan after the expert team thoroughly understands the case and the implications of surgical cancer treatment.  

What Are the Different Types of Surgery Used in Cancer Treatment?

Depending on the case and the treatment goal, doctors may recommend different types of surgery for cancer treatment. The following are the various types of cancer surgeries:

Curative Surgery

This type of surgery for cancer involves the removal of cancerous tissues from the body. It is also called tumor removal surgery. It is the primary treatment for most cancers and is performed when the tumor is localized, and its growth is limited to one organ.

Preventive Surgery

It is also known as prophylactic surgery. The surgeons perform preventive surgery to remove the tissues that have the potential to develop into cancerous masses, such as the removal of colon polyps to prevent colon cancer.

Diagnostic Surgery and Staging Surgery

During diagnostic surgery, the surgeon collects the abnormal tissues and sends them to the laboratory to detect cancer. The surgeon also determines the tumor size, and if the cancer has spread to other body parts. It is known as staging. Generally, staging is done through imaging techniques, such as CT scan, PET scan, and MRI, along with biopsy.


Biopsy is the procedure that involves obtaining samples of abnormal tissues and sending them to the laboratory for the detection of cancer. Several types of biopsies include:

 Fine Needle Aspiration

During this procedure, the doctor uses a thin needle to obtain a sample of the abnormal tissues. 

Punch Biopsy

It is a medical procedure that involves using a round-tipped cutting tool to obtain tissue samples from deeper layers. It is used to detect cervical, vulvar, and skin cancers. A punch biopsy is recommended for cancer growths that are visible.

Core Biopsy

A core needle biopsy involves using a wide or hollow needle to obtain tissue samples for diagnosing cancer. A core biopsy is recommended for tissues that are deeply situated and not visible.

Surgical Biopsy

During a surgical biopsy, the surgeon obtains samples of abnormal tissues by making an incision. An incisional biopsy involves the removal of some part of the abnormal tissue, while an excisional biopsy is the procedure to remove the suspected tissue entirely. 

 Endoscopic Biopsy/Endoscopy

Endoscopic biopsy is the procedure of visualizing and removing suspicious tissues through a thin, long tube with a camera at the tip. 

  • Bronchoscopy: The tube is inserted through the mouth to test the suspected tissues of the respiratory tract or lungs.   
  • Colonoscopy:  The sample is obtained from the colon by inserting the tube through the anus. 
  • Colposcopy: The doctor inserts the speculum into the vagina to visualize and obtain tissue samples from the cervix and vagina.  
  • Cystoscopy: Cystoscopy is the procedure of inserting the cystoscope into the bladder via the urethra to obtain samples of abnormal tissues for diagnosing bladder cancer.      
  • Gastroscopy: The doctor inserts the gastroscope through the oral cavity to view and obtain abnormal tissues from the stomach and small intestine.    
  • Hysteroscopy:  The tissue samples from the uterus are obtained by inserting the tube through the vagina.
  • Laparoscopy: In this procedure, a small incision is made on the skin of the abdominal wall to insert the camera. It is used to view and remove samples from the liver, stomach, and female reproductive organs.      
  • Laryngoscopy: The procedure is used to diagnose laryngeal cancer by inserting the laryngoscope through the mouth and obtaining tissue samples.       
  • Mediastinoscopy: The doctor makes a small incision on the lower neck and guides a small tube to the chest to remove samples of abnormal tissues.       
  • Pyeloscopy: During pyeloscopy, a small tube is introduced into the urethra and guided to the kidney via the bladder for visualizing and obtaining samples of the abnormal tissues.    
  • Sigmoidoscopy: Unlike colonoscopy, which involves visualizing the entire colon, sigmoidoscopy involves a comprehensive inspection of the sigmoid colon.      
  • Thoracoscopy: The doctor makes a small incision in the chest and introduces the camera in the lung to remove the suspected tissue samples for further examination.   
  • Ureteroscopy: During this procedure, a thin, long tube is inserted into the ureter via the urethra to remove the tissue samples. 

Debulking Surgery

This tumor removal surgery removes a portion of the cancerous tissues, as removing the complete tumor may damage the surrounding organs. The patients undergo chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy to damage the remaining cancerous tissues. 

Palliative Surgery

Palliative surgery is a surgical intervention that relieves the side effects of cancerous tissues. It enhances the quality of life in advanced cancer. It is done to relieve the pressure on the nerves, remove gastrointestinal obstruction, and prevent bleeding.

Supportive Surgery

Supportive surgery has no direct effect on cancer management. These surgeries help other treatment interventions work effectively. 

Restorative Surgery/ Reconstructive Surgery

Restorative surgery is performed to restore the functional and cosmetic characteristics of an organ after cancer management surgeries. Examples of restorative surgeries include breast reconstruction surgeries and surgeries to reconstruct the oral cavity.

Some Other Types of Surgeries That Can Treat Cancer


This surgery for cancer treatment involves using very low temperatures to kill cancer cells. In some types of cancer, such as skin cancer, liquid nitrogen is directly placed at the treatment site. In other cases, liquid nitrogen is delivered through a cryoprobe. 

Laser Surgery

Laser surgery or laser cancer surgery is a form of cancer operation that uses a beam of light to treat cancers by destroying or shrinking the tumor or by activating the cancer drugs. Laser cancer surgery treats various cancers, such as cancers of the cervix, skin, rectum, and larynx. 


Electrosurgery is a form of minimally invasive surgical cancer treatment that involves using electric current to kill cancerous cells. 

Mohs Surgery

Mohs surgery is a form of cancer operation recommended for skin cancer treatment. It involves removing and examining the tissue layers under the microscope until the tissue samples are free from cancerous cells. 

Laparoscopic Surgery

Also known as key-hole surgery, laparoscopic surgery is a form of minimally invasive surgery, wherein surgeons make tiny incisions to insert the surgical tools, along with a light source and a video camera. Based on the pictures captured by the video camera, the doctor operates on the tumor and removes it.

 Robotic Surgery

Robotic surgery, or robot-assisted surgery, is another form of minimally invasive tumor removal surgery that helps in operating on the tumor through smaller incisions. Robotic surgeries are performed using robotic arms, which are in turn controlled by a robotic surgeon sitting at a console. There will be four robotic arms that carry surgical tools and a 3D camera. 

Robotic surgeries benefit surgeons with the highest range of motion and precision, which in turn translate to enhanced treatment efficacy, faster recovery, and fewer treatment-related complications. Also, as a minimally invasive procedure, robotic surgeries reduce blood loss and pain and eliminate the need for longer hospital stays.

 Surgical management of cancer is achieved through various means, and the pros and cons of each approach are thoroughly weighed before it is recommended to a patient. 

Advantages of Cancer Surgeries

Doctors recommend surgery for cancer treatment for various reasons. The following are some of the important advantages of cancer surgeries:

  • Surgical cancer treatments remove all cancer cells from a small area. Cancer cells that are resistant to other treatments like radiation therapy and chemotherapy can be eliminated from the body only through surgery. 
  • They help in determining response to cancer treatment.
  • Palliative surgeries play a pivotal role in improving the quality of life.
  • Surgical cancer treatments are helpful in facilitating immediate symptomatic relief through the removal of large-volume cancer cells.
  • Cancer surgeries are relatively more convenient for patients, as they are done once, unlike chemotherapy and radiation therapy, which require multiple sessions.    

Things to Keep an Eye on After a Successful Cancer Surgery

Some of the side effects that require monitoring include:

  • Pain and discomfort at the surgical site     
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Infection at the surgical site 
  • Altered digestion and appetite.
  • Altered emotional and psychological health, such as anxiety or depression.   
  • Occurrence of blood clots or deep vein thrombosis  

What Can You Expect Before and After Cancer Surgery?

When patients are recommended to undergo surgery for cancer treatment, they are provided with special instructions by the expert team, and they are to be diligently followed. Below are a few things that patients must know before undergoing surgery for cancer treatment

Getting Ready

Before a cancer operation, the patients may be asked to avoid eating food or drinking fluids for at least 6 to 8 hours. The surgeons may also prescribe laxatives to clear the bowel before certain cancer surgeries. The surgeons also clean the surgical site with an antiseptic solution before surgery. Patients should consider talking to nutritionists and physiotherapists before their surgery. This will improve their overall fitness and positively impact their recovery after the treatment. 


Tumor removal surgery or cancer surgery, like any other surgical procedure is performed under anesthesia. Several types of anesthesia are available based on the type of surgery. It includes local anesthesia, regional anesthesia, topical anesthesia, twilight anesthesia, and general anesthesia. 


Recovery from cancer surgery largely depends on the type of surgery and the overall health of the patient before surgery. The surgeon may prescribe certain medications, such as analgesics and anti-inflammatory drugs, to manage the side effects of surgery. 

Why choose HCG for Cancer Surgeries? 

The surgical oncology department at the HCG hospital is one of the finest centers for surgical interventions to treat cancer. The department has experienced surgeons who perform different types of cancer surgeries to help patients get better. At HCG, we house advanced surgical cancer treatment facilities, which will support the effective surgical management of cancer.


Cancer surgeries are important interventions in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. Several types of cancer surgeries are available, depending on the type and stage. It not only treats cancer but also manages symptoms and enhances the overall quality of life of the patients. In advanced cancer, tumor removal surgery is accompanied by other treatments, such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and immunotherapy. 

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Can surgery remove all cancers?

Doctors recommend different types of cancer surgeries for the efficient management of this condition. Surgeries are highly effective for some types of cancer, especially when they are in their early stages. We have organ preservation surgeries, minimally invasive surgeries like laser cancer surgery, laparoscopic surgery, robotic surgery, etc. 

Nonetheless, it is not possible to treat metastatic cancers with surgery alone. Other treatments, such as radiation therapy, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and targeted therapy, are recommended in such cases.     

2. Can cancer spread after surgery?

No studies are available to suggest that the surgery has a direct effect on spreading cancer. However, some studies have shown that a cancer operation can trigger a specific immune response that can lead to metastasis of cancer throughout the body.

3. What are the limitations of cancer surgery?   

One of the biggest limitations of surgical cancer treatment is that it is not capable of getting rid of the tumor cells completely, and microscopic disease from the edges of the tumor is left behind in most cases. Therefore, cancer surgeries are often followed by radiation therapy or chemotherapy. 

Other limitations include blood loss, longer hospitalization, slower recovery, and the possibility of treatment-related complications, such as infections. 

4. Why cant all cancers be surgically removed?

Surgery for cancer cannot be recommended in all cases. In some cases, the tumor would be in hard-to-reach sites, or removing it entirely may cause damage to nearby critical organs. Also, if the cancer has spread to multiple organs, treatment through surgery becomes challenging. Therefore, in such cases, cancer specialists recommend multimodal treatment. 

5. Can cancer be treated without surgery?      

Surgery is one of the main pillars of cancer treatment. However, in some cases, cancer specialists do recommend treatment plans that do not include tumor removal surgery. This is more common in the case of inoperable tumors. Inoperable tumors refer to liquid tumors, tumors present in hard-to-reach sites, and tumors that have spread to multiple organs. In such cases, cancer specialists recommend other treatment options like chemotherapy and radiation therapy. 

6. Are there alternative treatments to surgery for cancer?

Doctors know what is best for a particular cancer case, and if they recommend surgery as a way forward, it is important to adhere to their recommendations. Apart from surgical cancer treatment, other treatment options available for cancer include radiation therapy, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, targeted therapy, and hormone therapy (for hormone-sensitive cancers only).

7. Are all cancer surgeries invasive?     

Surgical procedures, by nature, are invasive. However, the degree of invasiveness may vary depending on the type of procedure. Open surgeries are more invasive than minimally invasive surgeries. Laparoscopic surgery, laser cancer surgery, endoscopic surgery, and robotic surgery are some of the most common types of minimally invasive surgeries that require tiny incisions only.

8. Is there any need for additional treatments after cancer surgery?

The need for additional treatments varies from one case to another. Precancerous lesions and early-stage cancers are often treated with surgery alone. However, if the tumor is present in hard-to-reach sites or if it is not in the early stages, cancer operation may be followed by other treatments, like radiation therapy, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, or targeted therapy. 

9. How can I manage pain and discomfort after cancer surgery?

After your cancer surgery, your expert team recommends a set of follow-up care guidelines for you to follow. Please adhere to these recommendations. It is important to opt for rehabilitation care after your treatment, as it helps you return to your normal life at a much faster rate. Along with this, you may also consider performing certain relaxation exercises, such as meditation, yoga, etc. 

If you are still having a hard time managing pain and discomfort, please talk to your expert team, who can help you with pain medications that can help you cope better.

10. How long does it take to recover from cancer surgery?

The rate at which the patient recovers after their cancer operation depends on various factors, such as the type of cancer, its stage, the type of surgery undergone, and the patients overall health status.

Having a detailed discussion with the expert team before the procedure can help patients understand what to expect after the procedure. 

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