- Advanced Cancer
- What is advanced cancer?
- What is metastatic cancer?
- Can advanced or metastatic cancer be prevented?
- How is advanced cancer found?
- How is advanced cancer treated?
- Surgery for advanced cancer
- Ablative techniques for advanced cancer
- Radiation therapy for advanced cancer
- Drug treatment for advanced cancer
- Clinical trials
- Complementary and alternative therapies for advanced cancer
- Managing symptoms of advanced cancer
- Problems grouped by where the cancer is
- What should you ask your doctor about your cancer?
- Coping with advanced cancer
- Sources of support
- Choices for palliative care
- Advance directives
- Additional resources for advanced cancer
- References: Advanced cancer
Surgery for advanced cancer
In cancer treatment, surgery is most often used for cancer that is localized, or limited to one area. Most of the time, the intent of surgery is to cure the cancer. Sometimes, though, surgery for a localized cancer may be used to remove only the major part of the tumor, and then other treatments such as radiation and chemotherapy are used to get rid of the rest.
If the cancer has spread to only one other part of the body and it is not large, in some cases it may be possible to remove all of it. For example, if colon cancer has spread to the liver and there are only 1 or 2 tumors, surgery may be used to remove all of the tumors.
Surgery is not often used to treat advanced cancer. But sometimes surgery can be helpful. For example:
Surgery to relieve symptoms and improve your life
Surgery can improve your quality of life and may even help you live longer, even when cancer has spread too far to be cured. For instance, cancer can sometimes block the bowel (intestine). This can be very painful and can be an emergency if the bowel is blocked completely. A surgeon may be able to bypass the blockage so the bowel can work normally again. In other cases, it may be necessary to let the bowel drain outside the abdomen into a bag (called a colostomy). Sometimes, simple surgery is used to put feeding tubes in place or to put small tubes into blood vessels for giving medicines to relieve pain.
Surgery to stop bleeding
Surgery may be done if the cancer is causing a lot of bleeding from the stomach or bowel. To find the area of bleeding, doctors will usually look inside the intestinal tract with a thin flexible tube that has a camera inside. The tube can be passed through the mouth or through the rectum. The patient is given drugs to sleep while this is done. The doctor may be able to stop bleeding by burning the bleeding vessel closed with a tool passed through the tube. If this can't be done, surgery to close the blood vessel or remove the part of bowel that is bleeding may be an option.
Surgery to stop pain
Sometimes a tumor may be pressing on a nerve. Or a tumor may be too close to the spinal cord. Either cutting the nerve or taking out the tumor may relieve the pain or prevent paralysis.
Surgery to prevent broken bones
Cancer that spreads to the bones may weaken them, causing breaks (fractures) that tend to heal very poorly. If a bone looks weak on an imaging test, surgery may be done to put in a metal rod to support it and prevent a fracture. This is most often done in the thigh bone. If the bone is already broken, surgery can quickly relieve pain and help the person be more active.
Whether surgery will help depends on your overall physical condition. Major surgery is hardly ever helpful if you are bedridden. The stress of the surgery can set you back even further. On the other hand, surgery may be a good idea if you are feeling fairly well and are active.
Last Medical Review: 07/17/2012
Last Revised: 07/17/2012