Nearly all patients with cancer will have some kind of surgery. Surgery may be used to perform a biopsy in order to obtain a specimen for determining an accurate diagnosis, provide local treatment of the cancer, and obtain other information to help determine whether additional treatment is necessary. Surgical techniques continue to improve, and surgeries are now less invasive and often performed on an outpatient basis.
In order to diagnose a cancer, a physician will typically perform a biopsy of a suspicious area, lump or mass suspected of being cancer. A biopsy can be performed on an outpatient basis. During a biopsy, part or all of the suspected cancer is removed and cells contained in the sample are sent to a pathology laboratory to determine whether cancer is present. Other information including genomic testing is obtained from the biopsy sample and can play an important role in treatment decisions. Patients should discuss the role of genomic testing with their doctor to make sure the tissue removed during surgery is available to evaluate whether precision cancer medicines might be a treatment option. If the biopsy indicates that cancer is present, additional tests to determine the stage of cancer will be performed. Surgery may be performed as part of the staging evaluation and/or as part of treatment after the patient and doctor determine the overall treatment plan.
The successful treatment of cancer often requires the involvement and coordination of several different treatment approaches. This is referred to as multi-modality treatment and may consist of surgery, radiation therapy, systemic treatment with precision cancer medicines or chemotherapy and/or hormonal therapy. It is important to understand that surgery is a local treatment and is only capable of treating the cancer cells removed during surgery. By the time a cancer is diagnosed, many patients will already have experienced spread of cancer cells through the blood and lymph system to other locations in the body. These cancer cells are referred to as micrometastases.
Information obtained during surgery and from other tests determines the likelihood of the cancer having spread and whether additional systemic treatment with precision cancer chemotherapy, hormonal therapy or radiation is necessary to kill the cancer micrometastases responsible for a cancer recurrence. The following sections may answer additional questions that you have about undergoing surgery.