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Surgical Treatment of Cancer

The Regional Cancer Center has experienced skilled surgeons who perform a wide variety of surgeries. Typically, surgery for cancer is performed by a surgical specialist – for example, urologists perform prostate cancer surgery, colorectal surgeons perform colon cancer surgery, etc. Our surgeons work collaboratively with each patient's primary care physician and with other cancer specialties, such as medical and radiation oncology, as needed.

We offer three convenient locations for surgery; check with your doctor to see which location is right for you. Mary Washington Hospital is our region's tertiary care medical center; we offer services that are typically only found in larger cities. Our 14 surgical suites are outfitted with the latest technology available and our surgical nurses and other OR staff have undergone extensive training. Stafford Hospital is our community-based hospital offering personalized service in a quiet setting. Stafford has been open less than five years so our surgical suites and technology offer the latest approach to surgery. Fredericksburg Ambulatory Surgery Center (FASC) offers outpatient surgery on the Mary Washington Hospital medical campus. Our surgical suites have been designed for advanced procedures in a setting that is convenient. We are also ranked in the top 5% nationwide for our customer service. In recognition of its quality and patient safety, FASC was named a Leapfrog Top Ambulatory Surgery Center in 2021, one of only 13 selected nationally for the competitive award. Many surgeons who practice at Mary Washington Hospital also perform surgery here.

In addition, we participate in clinical trials for several surgical procedures to treat lung cancer. For prostate surgery, we offer the most advanced robot-guided laparoscopic surgery using the Da Vinci Robotic surgery system. For more information, check out Mary Washington Hospital's Robotic Surgery Program.

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How Is Surgery Used in Cancer Treatment?

In general, surgery is used in several ways to help cancer patients. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), it is the oldest form of cancer treatment. It provides the best chance to stop many types of cancer, and it also plays a part in diagnosing, staging, and supporting cancer treatment.

Having surgery for cancer is different for every patient, depending on the type of surgery, the type of cancer, and the patient's health. For some people, surgery is a major medical procedure with life-changing side effects. For others, surgery is quick and has few side effects. We have more detailed information on breast cancer, colon cancer, lung cancer, and prostate cancer.

What Are the Different Types of Surgery Used in Cancer Treatment?

Several types of surgery are helpful to people with cancer. Some surgeries are used in combination with other types of treatment. The following is a list of these surgeries with a brief explanation of their goals:

Curative Surgery

Curative surgery removes the cancerous tumor or growth from the body. Surgeons use curative surgery when the cancerous tumor is localized to a specific area of the body. This type of treatment is often considered the primary treatment. However, other types of cancer treatments, such as radiation, may be used before or after the surgery.

Preventive Surgery

Preventive surgery is used to remove tissue that does not contain cancerous cells, but may develop into a malignant tumor. For example, polyps in the colon may be considered precancerous tissue and preventative surgery may be performed to remove them.

Diagnostic Surgery

Diagnostic surgery helps to determine whether cells are cancerous. Diagnostic surgery is used to remove a tissue sample, called a biopsy, for testing and evaluation (in a laboratory by a pathologist). The tissue samples help to confirm a diagnosis, identify the type of cancer, and determine the stage of the cancer.

Staging Surgery

Staging surgery works to uncover the extent of cancer, or the extent of the disease in the body. Laparoscopy (a viewing tube with a lens or camera is inserted through a small incision to examine the inside of the body and to remove tissue samples) is an example of a surgical staging procedure.

Debulking Surgery

Debulking surgery removes a portion, though not all, of a cancerous tumor. It is used in certain situations when removing an entire tumor may cause damage to an organ or the body. Other types of cancer treatment, such as chemotherapy and radiation, may be used after debulking surgery is performed.

Palliative Surgery

Palliative surgery is used to treat cancer at advanced stages. It does not work to cure cancer, but to relieve discomfort or to correct other problems cancer or cancer treatment may have created.

Supportive Surgery

Supportive surgery is similar to palliative surgery because it does not work to cure cancer. Instead, it helps other cancer treatments work effectively. An example of supportive surgery is the insertion of a catheter to help with chemotherapy.

Restorative Surgery

Restorative surgery is sometimes used as a follow-up to curative or other surgeries to change or restore a person's appearance or the function of a body part. For example, women with breast cancer sometimes need breast reconstruction surgery to restore the physical shape of the affected breast(s). Curative surgery for oral cancer can cause a change in the shape and appearance of a person's mouth. Restorative surgery may be performed to address these effects.

What Are the Different Types of Anesthesia That Are Used?

During surgery, you will be given some form of anesthesia - a medication administered for the relief of pain and sensation during surgery. The type and dosage of anesthesia is administered by the anesthesiologist. When a patient faces surgery, you will meet with the anesthesiologist before the procedure.

There are various forms of anesthesia. The type you will receive will depend on the type of surgery and your medical condition. Usually, an anesthesiologist will administer a sedative in addition to the anesthetic. The different types of anesthesia are as follows:

Local anesthesia - local anesthesia is medication targeted to a particular area of the body. Patients remains conscious during the surgery.

Regional anesthesia - regional anesthesia means numbing only the portion of the body which will be operated on. Usually an injection of local anesthetic is given in the area of nerves that provide feeling to that part of the body. There are several forms of regional anesthetics, two of which are described below:

Spinal anesthetic - often used for lower abdominal, pelvic, rectal, or lower extremity surgery. This type of anesthetic involves injecting a single dose of the anesthetic agent directly into the spinal cord in the lower back, causing numbness in the lower body.

Epidural anesthetic - this anesthetic is similar to a spinal anesthetic and also is commonly used for surgery of the lower limbs and during labor and childbirth. This type of anesthesia involves continually infusing drugs through a thin catheter that has been placed into the space that surrounds the spinal canal in the lower back, causing numbness in the lower body.

General anesthesia - general anesthesia causes a patient to be unconscious during surgery. The medicine is either inhaled through a breathing mask or tube, or administered through an intravenous line - a thin plastic tube inserted into a vein (usually in the patient's forearm). A breathing tube may be inserted into the windpipe to maintain proper breathing during surgery. Once the surgery is complete, the anesthesiologist tops the anesthetic and the patient wakes up in the recovery room.

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