What is surgery?
Surgery is a method of treatment that physically removes tissue from specific sites in the body. Cancer cells, tumours and surrounding tissue are cut away using instruments like scalpels or lasers.
Many cancers, especially if detected early, can be successfully treated in this way. The other two main methods of treating cancer are:
* Radiotherapy - High energy radiation is used to destroy cancer cells in a particular part of the body.
* Chemotherapy - Anti-cancer drugs are given as tablets or injections so they can circulate throughout the body. These drugs are capable of killing or damaging cancer cells wherever they may be found.
Surgery is often the treatment of choice for many solid tumours such as cancers of the bowel, breast, head and neck as well as many other solid tumours.
The surgeon uses a small sharp knife called a scalpel to cut away cancer cells or tumours from the body while the patient is under local or general anaesthetic. (See Pg 9). A margin of normal tissue surrounding the cancer is also included and frequently, a sample from the adjoining lymph glands (also called lymph nodes). For example, some lymph glands under the arm are often removed during surgery for breast cancer. Lymph glands are filters for the removal of harmful agents like bacteria and toxins as well as cancer cells.
All the tissue removed is sent to the laboratory to be analysed for the presence of cancer cells. The doctor can determine from the results what further treatments, if any, need to be planned. If the lymph glands are found to be positive (contain cancer cells), the cancer has spread beyond the organ in which it originated.
What is surgery?