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Although surgery cures many cancers, it's not always possible to know at the time of surgery whether any cancer cells could have broken away and spread to tissues around the main tumour.
To try to ensure all the cancer cells are removed the surgeon will remove the tumour and a surrounding area (margin) of normal tissue. A specialist known as a pathologist will examine the tissue that’s been removed and check the margin to see if it’s clear of cancer cells.
Removing all the cancer cells is important because this helps to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back. If the margin of tissue is not clear, the cancer specialists who are ivolved in your care will discuss with you the best way to manage this. For some people a further operation to take more tissue from the surrounding area may be recommended.
There’s also a risk that cancer cells may have spread from the main tumour to another part of the body. These are known as micrometastases. Micrometastases are too small to be seen on scans. If there is a potential risk of micrometastases, your cancer specialists may recommend that you have other treatments such as chemotherapy| and radiotherapy| as part of your treatment.
Occasionally scans that are taken before surgery don’t show up the true extent of the cancer and, during the operation, the surgeon finds that it isn’t possible to remove the cancer completely. If this is the case, your cancer specialists will discuss with you the best treatment possible for your situation.
Content last reviewed: 1 January 2013
Next planned review: 2015
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© Macmillan Cancer Support 2013
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