Surgery may be performed as a tool to help diagnose cancer or as a treatment method. A common form of diagnostic surgery is a biopsy, where the doctor takes a sample of tissue from the afflicted area and runs tests to determine if it is cancerous or not.
Surgery for cancer treatment involves the excision of cancerous cells and some of the adjacent tissues (to ensure that all of the cancer is removed). In addition to removing the cancer, your doctor is able to gather information during the surgery about your condition that can serve as an aid for evaluating further treatment options and chances of recurrence.
In most cases, the surgeon removes the tumor and some tissue around it. Removing nearby tissue may help prevent the tumor from growing back. The surgeon may also remove some nearby lymph nodes.
The side effects of surgery depend mainly on the size and location of the tumor, and the type of operation. It takes time to heal after surgery. The time needed to recover is different for each type of surgery. It is also different for each person. It is common to feel tired or weak for a while.
Most people are uncomfortable for the first few days after surgery. However, medicine can help control the pain. Before surgery, you should discuss the plan for pain relief with the doctor or nurse. The doctor can adjust the plan if you need more pain relief.
Some people worry that having surgery (or even a biopsy) for cancer will spread the disease. This seldom happens. Surgeons use special methods and take many steps to prevent cancer cells from spreading. For example, if they must remove tissue from more than one area, they use different tools for each one. This approach helps reduce the chance that cancer cells will spread to healthy tissue.
Similarly, some people worry that exposing cancer to air during surgery will cause the disease to spread. This is not true. Air does not make cancer spread.