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- Surgery to diagnose and stage cancer
Surgery to diagnose and stage cancer
For most cancers you will need further tests to make a diagnosis and to stage it. These tests may involve a surgical procedure.
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Before surgery to treat cancer, you may have a medical procedure called a biopsy. Needle biopsies are commonly used to remove a small sample of cells or tissue from the area of concern. If the cancer can’t be diagnosed from a tissue sample, you may have surgery to remove the mass so it can be checked for signs of cancer. The biopsy results are used to diagnose and stage cancer.
|where you have it||It may be done in the doctor’s rooms, at a radiology practice, in hospital, or as day surgery. It is often done using an ultrasound or CT scan to guide the needle to the correct place.|
|before the biopsy||You will usually have a local anaesthetic to numb the area. In some cases you may need sedation or a general anaesthetic, which puts you to sleep.|
|after the biopsy||A pathologist examines the sample under a microscope to see if it contains cancer cells. The initial results are usually available in a few days, though the full report can take up to 10 days.|
Common ways of taking biopsies
|fine needle aspiration||A thin needle is used to remove a sample of fluid or cells from the tumour.|
|punch biopsy||A special tool is used to remove a circle of tissue.|
|core biopsy||A hollow needle is inserted through the skin to remove a thin piece of tissue (a core).|
|surgical biopsy||The surgeon cuts into the body to remove all or part of a tumour. It may be called an excision biopsy (removes the whole tumour) or incision biopsy (removes part of the tumour).|
|endoscopic biopsy||A flexible tube with a light and camera (endoscope) is inserted into the body through a natural opening (such as the mouth) or a small cut. This lets the doctor see inside the body and take a tissue sample. Endoscopies are named after the part of the body affected, e.g. colonoscopy (colon), gastroscopy (stomach).|
Staging is the process of working out how large the cancer is and whether it has spread to other areas of the body. Knowing the stage of a cancer helps your medical team work out the likely outcome of the disease (prognosis) and recommend the best treatment for you.
Most of the time staging is done before surgery using imaging scans such as CT, PET–CT or MRI, and a needle biopsy. Sometimes, the stage is revised after surgery. This means that the surgery to remove the cancer will help the medical team work out how far the tumour has spread throughout the body. All tissue and fluids removed during surgery are examined for cancer cells by a pathologist.
For specific information about staging a certain type of cancer, talk to your medical team or go to specific cancer types and navigate to the staging page.
During surgery, the doctor removed the tumour and an area around it. The pathology results showed there was cancer in the margin, and I had to have further surgeryPage
Prof Elisabeth Elder, Specialist Breast Surgeon, Westmead Breast Cancer Institute and University of Sydney, NSW; Chanelle Curnuck, Dietitian – Dietetics and Nutrition, Sir Charles Gairdner Osborne Park Health Care Group, WA; Department of Anaesthetics, Perioperative Medicine and Pain Medicine, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Jessica Feeney, Nurse Unit Manager, Breast, Endocrine and Gynaecology, Royal Adelaide Hospital, SA; A/Prof Richard Gallagher, Head and Neck Surgeon, Director of Cancer Services and Head and Neck Cancer Services, St Vincent’s Health Network, NSW; John Leung, Consumer; Rohan Miegel, Senior Physiotherapist – Cancer Care, Flinders Medical Centre, SA; A/Prof Nicholas O’Rourke, University of Queensland and Head of Hepatobiliary Surgery, Royal Brisbane Hospital, QLD; Lucy Pollerd, Social Worker, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Suzanne Ryan, Clinical Nurse Consultant, Department of General Surgery, Sunshine Coast University Hospital, QLD; Rebecca Yeoh, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Queensland.
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