Surgery Patient Stories

One of the most common ways of locally treating cancer, in particular solid tumors, is through surgery. Surgeons, medical doctors, are trained to remove cancer from you body during operations.

Below, find answers to popular surgery questions and experiences of surgery shared by The Patient Story community.


General Surgery FAQ

How is surgery performed

Surgery usually requires cuts that go through skin, muscles, and sometimes bone.

Waking up from the procedure can be painful and the time for physical recovery depends on the extensiveness and size of the surgery.

Almost always, you will undergo anesthesia, drugs and other substances that make you lose feeling and/or awareness. This is meant to help prevent you from feeling pain during the operation.

Types of surgery

The many kinds of surgery are assigned based on several factors, including:

  • Purpose of the surgery
  • Part of body that requires surgery
  • Amount of tissue
  • (Sometimes) Patient preference

Surgery may be (1) open or (2) minimally invasive.

  1. Open surgery: Surgeon makes one large cut in order to remove the tumor, some healthy tissue, possibly close lymph nodes
  2. Minimally invasive surgery (laparascopic): Surgeon makes a couple to a few small cuts. In one of those small cuts, the surgeon inserts a long, thin tube with a tiny camera (laparoscope).

    The surgical team sees images of inside the body from the camera, which projects onto a monitor. The surgeon uses that view to remove the tumor, some healthy tissue (margins).
    Less time to recover compared to open surgery.

Types of anesthesia
  • Local anesthesia: Leads to loss of feeling in one targeted area of the body
  • Regional anesthesia: Leads to loss of feeling in one part of the body (e.g. arm or leg)
  • General anesthesia: Leads to what feels like a very deep sleep from a total loss of feeling and a loss of awareness
Non-cutting surgeries
  • Cryosurgery (or cryotherapy): Use of the extreme cold created by liquid nitrogen or argon gas to get rid of abnormal tissue.
    • Cancers commonly treated: Early-stage skin cancer, retinoblastoma, precancerous growths on cervix and skin
  • Lasers: Powerful beams of light cut through tissue in precise
    surgeries. The lasers can also shrink and destroy cancerous growths or tumors that may become cancer. Used most commonly on body surface or internal organs’ inside lining.
  • Hyperthermia: Exposing small areas of body tissue to very high temperatures in effort to damage and destroy cancer cells. Also meant to make the cancer cells more vulnerable to radiation and chemo drugs. Still heavily researched.
  • Photodynamic Therapy: Using drugs reactive to certain kinds of light. The light activates these drugs to destroy and kill nearby cancer cells. Most used to treat or alleviate symptoms of cancer, including:
How surgery destroys cancer

The purpose of surgery depends on cancer type and stage (how advanced it is).

  • Completely remove the cancer: Surgery can be used to remove cancerous growths and tumors in one area.
  • Debulk a tumor: This is used to remove part of a tumor to help other cancer treatments, especially when trying to remove the entire tumor may cause damage to an organ or to the body.
  • Alleviate cancer symptoms: Surgery used to help lessen pain or pressure caused by tumors.

Surgery Stories and Experiences

Hear about different surgeries and experiences from our community of patients and survivors.

Colectomy

Shelley B., Colon Cancer, Stage 3B



Cancer Details: Had no usual first symptoms, found as a result of routine colonoscopy and endoscopy
1st Symptoms: None
Treatment:Partial colectomy, chemotherapy (FOLFOX)
...
Allison

Allison R., Colorectal Cancer, Stage 2C



Age at Diagnosis: 32
1st Symptoms: Extreme fatigue, unexplained weight loss, blood in stool, "blockage" feeling after eating
Treatment: Concurrent adjuvant (oral) chemotherapy + radiation, colectomy, oral chemotherapy
...
Lindsay

Lindsay D., Colon Cancer, Stage 4



Cancer Details: Diagnosed at 32, cancer spread to ovary and lung
1st Symptoms: Lump in pelvic area, funny-smelling food, weight loss
Treatment: Chemotherapy, colectomy (surgery)
...

Chris T., Colon Cancer, Stage 2



Cancer Details: Discovered Lynch Syndrome after genetic testing
1st Symptoms: Found the cancer as a result of family history, early colonoscopy
Treatment: Partial colectomy
...

Rachel B., Sigmoid Colon Cancer, Stage 1



Cancer Details: The sigmoid colon (or pelvic colon) is the part of the large intestine that is closest to the rectum
1st Symptoms: Stomach discomfort, nausea, bloating, blood in stool
Treatment: Colectomy
...
DIEP Flap
Melissa sitting in her car

Melissa H., Stage 2B, Triple Negative



Cancer details: Triple negative doesn’t have any receptors commonly found in breast cancer making it harder to treat
1st Symptoms: Lump in left breast
Treatment: Mastectomy, chemotherapy, 2nd mastectomy
...
Gasterectomy

Lauren C., Stomach Cancer Stage 1, CDH1 Mutation



Cancer details: CDH1 mutation led to “hereditary diffuse gastric cancer” (HDGC)
HDCG cancer risks: 
“Frequently, HDGC-related cancers develop in individuals before the age of 50” (NIH)
Treatments: 
Total gastrectomy (surgery to remove whole stomach)
...
Lumpectomy
Natalie
Natalie W., Ductal Carcinoma In Situ, Stage 0, ER+; Paget’s Disease



Cancer Details: Only 1-4% of breast cancer cases also includes Paget’s
1st Symptoms: 2cm lump found in right breast
Treatment: Lumpectomy, double subcutaneous mastectomy, hormone therapy
...

Shari S., Stage 4, Metastatic, Triple Positive



Cancer details: Triple positive = positive for HER2, estrogen receptor (ER), progesterone receptor (PR)
1st Symptoms: Lump in breast
Treatment: Surgery, chemotherapy, radiation
...
Doreen

Doreen D., IDC, Stage 2A, Triple Positive



Cancer details: IDC is most common kind of breast cancer. Triple positive = positive for HER2, estrogen receptor (ER), progesterone receptor (PR)
1st Symptoms: Lump in left breast
Treatment: Neoadjuvant chemotherapy (TCHP), lumpectomy, radiation
...
Monica

Monica H., IDC, Stage 2B



Cancer details: IDC is most common kind of breast cancer.
1st Symptoms: Tightness and lump in left breast
Treatment: Chemotherapy, radiation, surgery
...
Caitlin

Caitlin J., IDC, Stage 2B, ER/PR Positive



Cancer Details: ER/PR positive = estrogen and progesterone receptor positive
1st Symptoms:
Lump found on breast
Treatment:
Lumpectomy, AC/T chemotherapy, radiation, and hormone therapy (Lupron and Anastrozole)
...
Amelia

Amelia L., IDC, Stage 1, ER/PR+, HER2-



Cancer details: IDC is most common kind of breast cancer.
1st Symptoms: Lump found during self breast exam
Treatment: TC chemotherapy; lumpectomy, double mastectomy, reconstruction; Tamoxifen
...
Mastectomy

Shirley P., High-Grade Serous Carcinoma, Stage 3C, BRCA1+



Cancer details:Account for up to 70% of cases
1st Symptoms:Pulling sensation when emptying bladder; abdominal pain
Treatment: Chemotherapy (Carboplatin & Taxol), de-bulking surgery & PARP inhibitors
...

Cat L., IDC & DCIS, Stage 2B



Cancer details: IDC is most common kind of breast cancer. DCIS means cancer has not spread into surrounding breast tissue
1st Symptoms: Pain in left breast radiating from lump
Treatment: Bilateral mastectomy, chemotherapy
...
Tina C., Ductal & Lobular Carcinoma in Situ, Stage 3A, ER+



Cancer details: Both ductal and lobular, estrogen receptor positive. Different than breast cancer Tina’s mom was diagnosed w/ twice.
1st Symptoms: Sunken in nipple of right breast
Treatment: Double mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiation, hormone therapy
...

Margaret A., IDC & DCIS, Stage 2B



Cancer details: IDC is most common kind of breast cancer. DCIS means cancer has not spread into surrounding breast tissue
1st Symptoms: Pain in left breast, left nipple inverting
Treatment: Double mastectomy, chemo (AC-T), Radiation
...
Natalie
Natalie W., Ductal Carcinoma In Situ, Stage 0, ER+; Paget’s Disease



Cancer Details: Only 1-4% of breast cancer cases also includes Paget’s
1st Symptoms: 2cm lump found in right breast
Treatment: Lumpectomy, double subcutaneous mastectomy, hormone therapy
...

Alison R., Partially Differentiated DCIS, Stage 4 Metastatic



Cancer details: Triple positive = positive for HER2, estrogen receptor (ER), progesterone receptor (PR)
1st Symptoms: Lump in underarm/breast
Treatment: Chemotherapy, surgery, radiation, targeted therapy
...

Renee N., IDC, Stage 3, HER2+



Cancer details: IDC is most common kind of breast cancer.
1st Symptoms: Lump in breast
Treatment: chemotherapy, bilateral mastectomy, radiation
...

Stephanie J., Stage 3, Triple Negative, BRCA1+



Cancer details: Triple negative doesn’t have any receptors commonly found in breast cancer
1st Symptoms: Lump in left breast
Treatment: Chemotherapy, surgery
...

Andrea A., IDC, Stage 2B/3, ER+



Cancer details: Found cancer while pregnant
1st Symptoms: Divot in breast
Treatment: Chemotherapy, radiation, surgery
...
Monica

Monica H., IDC, Stage 2B



Cancer details: IDC is most common kind of breast cancer.
1st Symptoms: Tightness and lump in left breast
Treatment: Chemotherapy, radiation, surgery
...

Callie M., IDC, Stage 2B, Grade 2, ER+



Cancer Details: ER positive = estrogen receptor positive
1st Symptoms:
Dimpling/lump found on breast
Treatment:
Mastectomy, AC/T chemotherapy, hysterectomy, reconstruction
...

Joy R., IDC, Stage 2, Triple Negative



Cancer details: Triple negative doesn’t have any receptors commonly found in breast cancer making it harder to treat
1st Symptoms: Lump in breast
Treatment: Chemo, double mastectomy, hysterectomy
...
Rach smiling against fall leaves

Rach D., IDC, Stage 2, Triple Positive



Cancer details: IDC is most common kind of breast cancer.
1st Symptoms: Lump in right breast
Treatment: Neoadjuvant chemotherapy, double mastectomy, targeted therapy, hormone therapy
...

Rachel Y., IDC, Stage 1B



Cancer details: IDC is most common kind of breast cancer. Stage 1B.
1st Symptoms: None, caught by delayed mammogram
Treatment: Double mastectomy, neoadjuvant chemotherapy, hormone therapy Tamoxifen
...
Amelia

Amelia L., IDC, Stage 1, ER/PR+, HER2-



Cancer details: IDC is most common kind of breast cancer.
1st Symptoms: Lump found during self breast exam
Treatment: TC chemotherapy; lumpectomy, double mastectomy, reconstruction; Tamoxifen
...
Orchiectomy

Hugo T., Non-Seminoma, Stage 2B



Age at Diagnosis: 21
1st Symptoms:
Pea-sized lump on right testicle
Treatment: Surgical removal of right testicle, lymph node resection, chemotherapy

...

Steve L., Non-Seminoma, Stage 4



Age at Diagnosis: 25
1st Symptoms:
Grape-sized tumor on neck; hip and pelvis pain; ultrasound revealed tumor on right testicle
Treatment:
Chemotherapy (BEP), removal of right testicle, lymph node resection (RPLND), and tumor dissection in the neck
...

Rick H., Seminoma, Stage 1



Age at Diagnosis: 34
1st Symptoms: Noticed one testicle larger than the other, dull pain
Treatment: Orchiectomy (surgical removal of one testicle), neoadjuvant chemo (1 infusion of Carboplatin)
...

References:

  1. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/types/surgery