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Specialized Types of Cancer Surgery

In most cases, cancer treatment depends on your overall health and the ability to tolerate surgery, the type and the stage of the cancer; the prognosis, or outlook, other available choices, and your personal preferences. Surgery may be recommended as part of cancer treatment to remove tumors or to take out tissue for testing. It may also be done to reconstruct a part of the body affected by the cancer. Or your doctor may think it is the best way to treat the cancer.

In addition to traditional surgery, your medical team may recommend one of several different types of surgery as part of your cancer treatment.


Illustration of cryotherapy procedure
Cryotherapy for Prostate. Click Image to Enlarge

This type of surgery destroys cancer cells by freezing them. The surgeon takes care to try to keep healthy cells and tissue from being frozen along with the cancer cells.

Cryosurgery may be recommended for many types of cancer:

  • Skin cancer

  • Liver cancer

  • Cervical cancer or precancer

  • Prostate cancer that is only in the prostate

  • Bone cancer and precancer

  • Retinoblastoma, a cancer of the eye that occurs in childhood

  • Lung cancer

Several different procedures can be used to freeze cancer cells. For instance, to treat skin cancer, cells are usually frozen using liquid nitrogen that may be sprayed or applied right on the skin. To treat tumors in the lung, a thin tube is put into the lung tumors. The tip of the tube applies intense cold to the tumor. This destroys the cancer. This procedure is done while you are under anesthesia, which are medicines used to put you into a deep sleep.

Risks and side effects include some bleeding and scabbing at the site of the cryosurgery. Depending on the location of the tumor, you may have other side effects, such as hair loss (if it is outside the body), spotting (with treatment of a cervical cancer), or coughing up blood (if it's treatment for lung tumors).

Laser surgery

Laser surgery uses a focused, high-powered beam of light to destroy cancer cells. It's often used to control tumors that are causing certain symptoms because of their size or location. Lasers may also be used to activate a cancer-killing chemotherapy agent.

Lasers tend to be more accurate than scalpels. As a result, they are better able to spare healthy tissue and cause less bleeding and scarring. However, the results of the surgery may not last as long. This often makes repeat procedures necessary. And the use of lasers needs specialized training and expensive equipment, so this method of surgery may not be readily available at all surgery centers or hospitals.

Laser surgery can play a role in the treatment or management of many different types of cancer, including:

  • Esophagus

  • Stomach

  • Early cancers of the female reproductive organs including the cervix, vagina, and vulva

  • Rectum

  • Head

  • Neck

  • Lungs


Microsurgery is a method of surgery used when work must be done on an extremely small scale. The surgeon will use a magnifying tool in order to do the surgery. Microsurgery might be used to reconnect blood vessels and small areas of tissue that have been cut or disrupted during surgery. When a woman's breast is reconstructed after breast cancer surgery, for instance, microsurgery is used to make sure that the blood supply reaches the remaining tissue.

Microsurgery needs special surgical training and equipment. Moh surgery is a type of microsurgery used to get better cosmetic effects in areas where removing the least possible amount of tissue is important. 


Electrosurgery is the use of high-frequency current to cauterize, or burn away, abnormal cells as well as nearby healthy cells. This technique is recommended for cancers of the mouth, throat, skin, and cervix. It may also be used during other procedures.

This is a minimally invasive approach that is a good choice when a cancer may have spread. Minimally invasive means less cutting and less blood loss, compared with other types of surgery. Because this treatment also seals blood vessels close to the abnormal tissue, reduced bleeding is one benefit. Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA) and microwave surgery are other types of minimally invasive surgery. 

One of the risks of electrosurgery is heat damage to nearby tissue. Specific side effects will vary with the type and location of cancer. 

Online Medical Reviewer: Levin, Mark, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Taylor, Wanda, RN, PhD
Last Review Date: 12/26/2015
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