Unlike other cancer treatments where your doctor tries to shrink a tumor, surgery is the physical act of removing a tumor. A surgeon uses a specific procedure based on the type of tumor you have to complete the surgery.
There are four things you should know about surgically removing a tumor before you agree to have surgery.
1. Not all tumors require surgery
Doctors treat some tumors with chemotherapy and/or radiation instead of removing it with a surgery.
Most tumors that require surgery are either solid organ tumors or soft tissue tumors.
In other situations, your surgeon only removes the diseased portion of an organ containing a tumor.
For cancers that affect the digestive system such as the colon or esophagus, the surgeon has to reconnect those organs so your normal digestive processes continue.
2. Surgery requires some prep work
Before surgery, your surgeon works with you to assess the risks of your surgery.
A surgeon’s job is to look at the patient, the tumor and really balance the risks of the operation with the benefits. With cancer, the benefits are very obvious, but sometimes the risks are very high,” Wernberg said. “Every operation is different even for the same cancer because every person is different.”
Your surgeon meets with you to talk about your surgery and the risks. Wernberg also recommends that a loved one come with you to these appointments to help you recall the conversation.
She also suggests you ask many questions during this meeting so you are comfortable with moving through the process. Patient navigators can help with this as well.
3. Course of treatments can change
Depending on the type of tumor you have and other factors, your treatment could include chemotherapy, radiation therapy or surgery in any order.
Sometimes your team recommends you remove the tumor first so they can complete a biopsy of the tumor. This helps determine the course of chemotherapy and radiation therapy treatments.
Other times outcomes improve by doing chemotherapy or radiation therapy before a surgery.
4. Managing the risks of surgery
Wernberg admits that anything can happen during surgery. That is why it is important to meet with your surgeon so you understand the risks and make an informed medical decision.
“Surgery is part of the curative intent. We understand there are inherent risks with every surgery,” Wernberg said.
Common risks include:
- Blood clots
- Leaks from organ connections
Advancements such as robotic surgery and outpatient procedures, have minimized complications.
Robotic surgery minimizes big incision complications so patients can go home sooner. Many procedures used to require intensive care, but more procedures are improving and becoming outpatient procedures so patients can leave that day.
In order to reduce risks and complications, Wernberg also recommends getting in better shape before a surgery.
“If somebody can be active before surgery, they are more likely to recover faster with fewer complications after surgery,” Wernberg said.
For more information about removing tumors with surgery, talk to your doctor.