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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.
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 used to destroy cancer cells in a particular part of the body.
Chemotherapy: anti-cancer drugs, given as tablets or injections so they can circulate throughout the body. These drugs are capable of killing or damaging cancer cells.
Surgery is often the treatment of choice for many solid tumours such as cancers of the bowel, breast, head and neck.
The surgeon aims to remove the cancer cells or tumours from the body. This is done while the patient is under local or general anaesthetic. A margin of normal tissue surrounding the cancer is often removed and frequently, a sample from the adjoining lymph glands (also called lymph nodes). Lymph glands are filters for the removal of harmful agents like bacteria and toxins as well as cancer cells.
The tissue removed is then 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 contain cancer cells this means the cancer has spread beyond the organ in which it began.