Surgical cancer treatment means removing cancerous tissue from the body. Surgery may be used to confirm the presence of cancer cells by taking a sample of tissue (biopsy). It is also used to remove as much of the tumor as possible. Sometimes surgery is used to reduce the size of a tumor (debulk the tumor) before using other therapies to eliminate the cancer. Surgery can also be a way to implant a device (port) for administering treatment medications.
The growth of a tumor can damage healthy tissue and kill normal cells. Damage can also occur when the healthy tissue around a tumor is surgically removed to be certain that all of the cancer cells are gone. Surgery can affect muscles, bones, nerves and organ systems, depending on what part of the body is operated on.
The risks of aftereffects of surgery have been reduced over the years. Less invasive surgery is now used for many types of cancer. This generally results in less scarring than what occurred in the past.
Possible aftereffects of surgery may include:
- Scarring at the incision site and internally
- Lymphedema or swelling of the arms or legs
- Problems with movement or activity
- Nutritional problems if part of the bowel is removed
- Cognitive problems such as memory loss, learning, concentration, and processing information
- Changes in sexual function and fertility
- Pain that may be acute (sudden), long-term, or chronic
- Emotional effects that may be related to feeling self-conscious about physical changes -- even if the changes are not visible to others
Newer surgical methods generally help limit damage to normal tissues. Methods of reconstructive surgery can now help reduce noticeable physical changes. Even when a radical approach is needed, advances in surgical techniques and technology have dramatically reduced long-term effects.
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