Surgical Techniques

What techniques are used in cancer surgery?

Many types of surgical methods for treating cancer and precancerous conditions exist, and new methods are constantly evolving.  Some additional types of cancer surgery include:

Cryosurgery

During this type of surgery, your doctor uses very cold material, such as liquid nitrogen spray or a cold probe, to freeze and destroy cancer cells or cells that may become cancerous, such as irregular cells in a woman's cervix that could become cervical cancer.

Electrosurgery

By applying high–frequency electrical currents, your doctor can kill cancer cells, for example, in your mouth or on your skin.

Laser surgery
Laser surgery, used to treat many types of cancer, uses beams of high–intensity light to shrink or vaporize cancer cells. In some cases, the heat of the laser accomplishes this. In other cases, the laser is used to activate a previously–administered chemical that cancer cells absorb. When stimulated by light, the chemical kills the cancer cells.

Mohs' surgery
Useful for removing cancer from sensitive areas of the skin, such as near the eye, and for assessing how deep a cancer goes, this method of surgery involves carefully removing cancer layer by layer with a scalpel. After removing a layer, your doctor evaluates it under a microscope, continuing in this manner until all the abnormal cells have been removed and the surrounding tissue shows no evidence of cancer.

Laparoscopic surgery

A surgeon uses a laparoscope to see inside your body without making large incisions. Instead, several small incisions are made and a tiny camera and surgical tools are inserted into your body. The surgeon watches a monitor that projects what the camera sees inside your body. The smaller incisions mean faster recovery and a reduced risk of complications. Laparoscopic surgery is used in cancer diagnosis, staging, treatment and symptom relief.

Image-guided surgery

In some instances, surgeons can rely on real–time images of your body to guide them when operating. MRI images allow the surgeon to be very precise, removing the tumor while minimizing damage to surrounding tissues. Many other cancers can be treated using image–guided surgery. Other imaging techniques are used as well, including computerized tomography (CT) and ultrasound.

Robotic surgery

In robotic surgery, the surgeon sits away from the operating table and watches a screen that projects a 3–D image of the area being operated on. The surgeon uses hand controls that tell a robot how to maneuver surgical tools to perform the operation. Robotic surgery helps the surgeon operate in hard–to–reach areas. But robotic surgical systems are expensive and require specialized training, so robotic surgery is available only in specialized medical centers.

What can you expect before and after cancer surgery?

Preparation and healing from cancer surgery varies greatly based on the operation you're undergoing. But in general, you can expect certain similarities.

Preparation

In general, expect to undergo certain tests, such as blood tests, urine tests, X–rays and other imaging tests, in the days preceding your surgery. These tests will help your doctor assess your surgical needs, such as your blood type should you need a transfusion, and identify potential risks, such as infections, that may influence your surgery.

Anesthesia

If you're having surgery, you'll likely need some type of anesthetic—a medication that blocks the perception of pain. Your options for anesthesia will be based on what type of surgery you're receiving.

Recovery
Depending on your surgery, you may stay in the hospital for a time before going home. Your healthcare team will give you specific directions for your recovery, such as how to care for any wounds, what foods or activities to avoid, and what medications to take. 

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