When used to treat cancer, a surgeon physically removes a tumor or part of a tumor from the patient’s body. A surgeon is a specialist, highly trained in a specific type of surgery. Surgery can be open or minimally invasive.

What You Should Know

Patients will go through some type of presurgical testing. This will include blood work, medical history, urinalysis, and other pre-op tests. The surgical team will need to know if their patient has any allergies, dentures/bridges, implants or transplants. Each of the physicians on the team might ask the same questions. Before surgery you should meet and talk with your surgeon, the anesthetist, and any other personnel that will be on the surgical team. Each of these physicians will ask you to repeat to them what procedure is being done. This is done to insure the patient’s awareness and to confirm the correct body part is indeed being worked on.


Prior to surgery patient’s should know what method of surgery is being used. This is an overview of typical surgical methods.

Insissions are cut by surgeons useing small, thin knives, called scalpels, and other sharp tools to cut the patient’s body during surgery. These are open surgeries. Surgery sometimes requires surgeons to cut through skin, muscle, and even bone. Following surgery, these incisions are closed using sutures (stitches), surgical tape, or surgical stapels. Incisions can be painful and take some time to heal.

Cryosurgery uses the extreme cold of liquid nitrogen or argon gas is used to destroy abnormal tissue. This type of surgery is used to treat early-stage skin cancer, retinoblastoma, and precancerous growths on the skin and cervix. Cryosurgery is also called cryotherapy.

Hyperthermia exposes small parts of the body to very high temperatures during surgery. The heat damages or kills cancer cells or can make them sensitive to radiation and certain chemotherapy drugs. One example of this method is radiofrequency ablation which uses high-energy radio waves to generate heat. Hyperthermia is currently being studied in clinical trials.

Lasers use powerful, highly focused, beams of light to cut through tissue during surgery. Surgeons can use lasers to perform very precise surgeries on very small areas. Lasers can also be used to shrink or destroy tumors or precancerous growths.

Photodynamic Therapy is a method of treatment that uses drugs that react to a certain type of light. When the tumor is exposed to the special light, these drugs become active and kill the cancer cells.

Robotic Surgery uses robotic equipment controlled by surgeons to perform minimally invasive surgeries. New York University has a very good overview on their Robotic Surgery page.


Anesthesiologist are specialists who have been highly trained in their field. Anesthesiologist use powerful drugs that will cause loss of feeling to a body part during surgery, allowing surgeons to do their work. The drugs anesthetists use are administered topically, intravenously, or are inhaled through a mask. These physicians are also responsible to monitor the patient’s vital signs during surgery. This is an overview of the types do anesthesia used.

Local anesthesia causes loss of feeling in one small part of the patient’s body.

Regional anesthesia causes loss of feeling in an entire part of the body, such as one arm or leg.

General anesthesia causes loss of feeling and complete loss of consciousness like a very deep sleep.

Johns Hopkins has a well put together explanation on their page Types of Anesthesia and Your Anesthesiologist.

Each of these types of anesthesia have their own risks and possible side effects. Adverse reactions can occur during or after surgery.


Every surgery has some risk involved. Every surgeon does his or her best to prevent complications and minimize risks. Sometimes though, problems will arise. This is an overview of common complications of surgery.

Pain is very common after surgery. The amount of pain you feel following surgery will depend on the extent of your surgery, which body part was operated on, and how you experience pain.

Your surgical team can help you manage pain. Talk with your doctor or nurse before surgery to set up a plan to deal with pain following surgery. Tell  if your doctor if pain is not controlled following your surgery.

Infection is common complication following surgery. Follow your nurse’s instructions about caring for the surgical are. If you do develop an infection, your doctor can prescribe an antibiotic to treat it.

Other risks of surgery include bleeding, damage to nearby tissues, and reactions to the anesthesia. Your doctor will help you weigh the possible risks for the type of surgery you will have.

After Surgery

Paitent self care is very important following any surgery. Your surgeon will outline any restrictions from work, special diet, and how to care for your inscission. Rest, diet, and infection prevention will be high priority following your surgery. Your doctor will tell you what to look for and what to do if you do see signs of infection. It is common for  surgical cancer treatment to be followed by further treatments.