Surgery is one of the most common forms of cancer treatment and is often the cornerstone of a treatment plan. Many cancer patients have some kind of surgery during their cancer treatment—sometimes only surgery; other times, surgery in combination with chemotherapy or radiation. The specialists and cancer healthcare teams at MedStar Health are fully prepared to be with you, answer questions, and provide compassion during each phase of your surgery.
The surgeons at MedStar Health can treat patients from cancer diagnosis to reconstruction in the following ways:
- Diagnoses are often made after biopsies, a surgical procedure that removes suspicious tissue for analysis.
- Preventive surgery examples include precancerous polyps removed from the colon or preventative mastectomies for women with a family history of breast cancer.
- Staging determines how far cancer has spread.
- Curative surgery removes the entire tumor when it is only in one area, has not spread, and can be removed in its entirety.
- Debulking/cytoreductive surgery removed some but not all of the tumor. It is performed when removing the entire tumor would cause damage to surrounding tissues and organs. Chemotherapy or radiation usually follows to destroy the rest of the tumor.
- Symptom relief can also be handled by surgery, such as when a tumor that is pressing on a nerve or bone or obstructing your intestine is removed.
- Restorative/reconstructive surgery often follows treatment to restore your body to how it functioned and looked pre-surgery. Restorative surgery is common after a mastectomy or after surgery for head and neck cancer.
Your preparation for surgery at MedStar Health will depend on the type of procedure you are having. In general, you can expect:
- Informed consent: The doctor will tell you about your procedure, including goals, risks and side effects. You provide written permission to perform the surgery.
- Preparatory tests: Your doctor will order blood and urine tests and X-ray or other imaging tests before your surgery.
- Other preparations: You should not to eat or drink anything beginning the night before your surgery, especially if you will be having general anesthesia.
MedStar Health offers cryotherapy (also referred to as cryosurgery and cryoablation), a minimally invasive surgery that uses freezing technology to destroy cancer growths and cells. As the cells freeze, ice crystals form inside and around them. The freezing and thawing processes destroy cells through dehydration, change their pH levels, and prevent the flow of red blood cells.
Cryotherapy is a new treatment and is not used as often as radiation therapy for primary treatment. However, the technology of freezing cancer cells to destroy them may be more effective than traditional radiation therapy, which uses high doses of radiation to treat and kill cancer cells.
The hepatic artery is the blood vessel that feeds the liver, and this form of surgery delivers a large dose of chemotherapy directly into the liver. This is advantageous because it increases the amount of chemotherapy that can be delivered to the tumor site—if this amount were to circulate throughout the body instead, the patient could not tolerate the dose.
The procedure require that a pump is inserted under the skin against the abdominal wall. The pump is loaded with chemotherapy drugs (at a higher does than regular IV chemotherapy) and attached to a long tube inserted into the hepatic artery. The liver is then infused with the drugs.
The pump is FDA-approved and has been used in the past to treat patients who have inoperable liver cancer. The hepatic pump may also be used by our Cancer Institute surgical oncologists to treat liver metastases (cancer deposits that have spread to the liver from another part of the body).
Radiofrequency ablation (RFA), a technology available at major academic centers, but rarely available at community hospitals, uses a surgical probe to destroy (ablate) cancer with heat. The probe has a special needle electrode through which a radiofrequency current is passed. Heat from the tip of the electrode ablates the cancerous tissue, with little affect to healthy liver tissue. RFA may be accomplished by inserting the ablation needles through the skin (percutaneous approach) or through a tube inserted through small holes in the skin (laparoscopy). In some cases, open surgery (laparotomy) may be required.