If you will be getting surgery as part of your cancer treatment, UHN has created the
My Surgery Guide to help you prepare for your surgery at UHN. You can also download the My Surgery @ UHN mobile app on the
App Store or
Google Play Store. To learn more about surgery at UHN, see the information below or visit
Surgery at UHN.
What is surgery?
Surgery is a type of treatment in which an area of the body is cut open to remove cancer.
Cancer surgery can be used to:
- Prevent cancer
- Diagnose cancer
- Stage cancer
- Treat cancer
Some people may have a high risk for cancer. If you are at high risk, your doctor may suggest surgery to help reduce and prevent the risk of cancer. This type of surgery is called preventative or prophylactic surgery. During surgery, a surgical oncologist (a surgeon trained in cancer surgery), may remove the body tissue or body part that is likely to develop cancer. Even though there is no sign of cancer at the time of surgery, removing the tissue or body part before it can develop cancer helps prevent or reduce the chance of cancer.
Diagnosing cancer means finding the cause of cancer. In some cases, surgery may be the only way to find out if someone has cancer and the kind of cancer. During surgery, the surgeon removes a small piece of tissue called a sample. The sample is sent to the lab where it is tested to find out if the sample contains cancer and what type of cancer it is. This process is called a surgical biopsy.
Staging cancer means finding out how much cancer there is and how far it has spread in the body. During surgery, the surgeon will remove tissue and lymph nodes near the cancer. The surgeon will have these tissue samples and lymph nodes examined in a lab to learn about the cancer. Knowing the stage of the cancer is vital to deciding treatment plans.
Surgery may be your main treatment if:
- The cancer is only in one part of the body
- The tumour or cancerous tissue can be totally removed
However, you may have other treatments like chemotherapy or radiation as well. During surgery, the surgeon will remove the tumour or cancerous tissue. The surgeon will also remove a small amount of normal tissue around where the cancer was (called the surgical margin). By removing some of the normal tissue, the surgeon can ensure that no cancer cells are left behind.
Sometimes, if not all the cancer can be removed, surgery is still done. The surgeon will try to remove as much of the cancer as possible. This is called debulking surgery. Your doctor may then treat the cancer that remains with radiation, chemotherapy or other treatments.
What side effects might I have?
The side effects and risks you may have from surgery depend on:
- Where the surgery is done in your body
- The type of surgery
- Your overall health
Most side effects will go away after surgery, but some may be long term or permanent.
Possible side effects of surgery include:
- Sore throat
- Nausea (feeling like you might throw up)
- Vomiting (throwing up)
- Bruising or bleeding
- Loss of movement or feeling
It takes time to recover from surgery. You may feel tired or weak after having surgery. Before your surgery, your cancer care team will talk to you about how to deal with pain, and they may give you a prescription (medicine ordered by a doctor) for medicines to take afterwards. Tell your cancer care team if you have any side effects you think may be from surgery. Your cancer care team can help improve many side effects with treatment.