Surgery remains an important element in the treatment of many kinds of cancer. In principle, only solid tumours are suitable for a surgical procedure. By contrast, lymphatic system cancers, such as Hodgkin's lymphoma, cannot be treated surgically.
Particularly with cancers at an early stage of the disease, surgical treatment alone may lead to a cure, depending on individual circumstances. The aim of surgery is complete removal of the tumour tissue and any secondary tumours (metastases), if possible. Some of the surrounding healthy tissue is also removed. This is intended to ensure that no undetected tumour residue is left behind.
In the case of larger tumours, it may also be necessary to remove lymph nodes in the affected part of the body because cancer cells might also be present there. In advanced stages of the disease, surgery is usually combined with other treatment methods. These include radiotherapy and drug therapy (e.g. chemotherapy). As a precaution, these therapies might also be used as additional (adjuvant) treatment in early-stage tumours and when the tumour tissue has been completely removed.
Over the years, continual improvements have been made in surgical procedures and progress has also been made in anaesthesia and intensive care medicine. This means that, today, more patients who are elderly or have other medical conditions can receive surgical treatment than in the past. Before surgery is performed, the benefits and risks still have to be weighed up.
The decision as to whether or not to perform surgery as well as the planning of further treatment are undertaken by a team of specialists, who review each patient's case individually. In addition to the cancer surgeon, this team includes the radiation therapist and oncologist as well as the community-based specialist, for example.