What is cancer surgery?

Cancer surgery is surgical removal of a tumor.

Types of cancer surgery

Common types of cancer surgeries include:


During cryosurgery, your doctor will freeze cancer cells or cells that are likely to become cancerous.


Your doctor can kill cancerous cells in your mouth or on the skin with high-frequency electrical currents.

Laser surgery

During laser surgery, your doctor will use high-intensity light to shrink or vaporize cancer cells

Mohs surgery

Mohs surgery is a type of non-melanoma skin cancer surgery where your dermatologist can remove all abnormal cancer cells layer by layer until all the cancer is removed.

Laparoscopic surgery

Laparoscopic surgery is a type of minimally invasive type of cancer surgery that allows for smaller incisions which mean faster recovery and fewer side effects.

Robotic surgery

Robotic surgery for cancerous tumor removal is a newer treatment option that uses a robot controlled by a doctor at a computer. Robotic surgery is used for cases where the cancer may be in a hard to reach area.

Who is a candidate for cancer surgery?

You may need cancer surgery for the following reasons:

  • Cancer prevention — patients with high risk of developing cancers may opt to have surgery to remove tissue before cancer develops.
  • Diagnosis — your cancer care team may perform cancer surgery to remove a tumor to determine if it is cancerous or noncancerous.
  • Staging — your doctor may perform cancer surgery to determine what stage cancer you have as well as ascertain if the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes.
  • Treatment — if your cancer has not spread, cancer surgery is the primary treatment option to eliminate the cancerous tumor.
  • Debulking — when a total surgical removal of a cancerous tumor is too dangerous, your doctor may remove as much of the tumor as possible and follow up with chemotherapy and radiation.
  • Relieve symptoms — your doctor may perform cancer surgery to relieve side effects caused by the growing tumor.

Your Mercy Health doctor will evaluate your case to determine if you should have surgery alone or surgery combined with chemotherapy and radiation.

What to expect during cancer surgery?

During cancer surgery, your surgeon will cut into the body and remove the cancerous tissue as well as some of the healthy tissue and lymph nodes around the tumor.

Breast cancer patients may need a lumpectomy (partial breast tissue removal) or mastectomy (removal of the entire breast) to rid the body of cancerous cells.

Lung cancer patients may need a lobectomy (removal of part of the lung) or pneumonectomy (removal of the entire lung).

To determine if the cancer has spread, your doctor will also remove lymph nodes surrounding the tumor site.

Risks of cancer surgery

Complications associated with cancer surgery will differ based on the type of surgery you have and the stage of your cancer.

Some of the most common side effects include:

  • Pain
  • Infection at the surgery site
  • Organ removal or loss of function
  • Severe bleeding
  • Blood clots that could lead to heart attack, stroke or pulmonary embolism
  • Difficulty going to the bathroom

Find a cancer doctor nearby

Mercy Health locations that can treat you