Cancer Surgery

Houston Methodist’s surgical oncologists are experts in the innovative techniques needed to treat cancer. With seven locations across the Greater Houston area, our experts offer advanced cancer treatment close to home or work.

Our Approach to Cancer Surgery

Whether surgery is needed for cancer prevention, diagnosis, staging or treatment, our expert cancer surgeons:

  • Have extensive experience using surgery to treat all types and stages of cancer
  • Use minimally invasive cancer surgery techniques to reduce complications and speed recovery whenever possible
  • Leverage state-of-the-art equipment, such as image-guided therapy and robotic surgical systems
  • Work closely with other specialists who are part of your care, such as medical oncologists and radiation oncologists


Additionally, experts at Houston Methodist are always researching ways to improve current surgical techniques and develop new technology that can make cancer surgery safer and more effective through clinical trials.

Advancing Cancer Surgery Using Image-Guided Therapy

A unique virtual environment developed at Houston Methodist is a stunning advancement in cancer treatment.


Image-guided therapy uses a variety of imaging technologies, including  3D, 4D, 5D and 6D functional images, to plan the best surgical approach in virtual reality prior to surgery, or even as the operation is underway to visualize the procedure. It can also be used to more precisely assess the results of your cancer treatment.

Types of Cancer Surgery

Preventive (Prophylactic) Surgery

For some patients with very high risk for certain cancers, surgery may be recommended to prevent cancer from developing. For example, if you have the breast cancer BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation, your doctor may consider your breast cancer risk to be high enough to warrant a prophylactic mastectomy.

Biopsy (Diagnostic Surgery)

To fully understand the type and severity of the cancer, your surgeon will remove a portion of the suspicious mass so that a pathologist can examine it under a microscope.


Some biopsies can be performed with a needle in your physician’s office, while others may require surgery in a hospital.

Surgical Removal of a Tumor

If cancer is in only one area and can be taken out, your doctor may recommend surgical removal.


During cancer surgery, the surgeon removes the cancerous mass, along with a small amount of the surrounding tissue called the margin. The purpose of removing the margin is to make sure that it is free of cancer cells — it is essentially a safety margin.


After your surgery, a pathologist will examine the tissue under a microscope to ensure that all of the cancerous cells were removed, also known as having clean margins. Your pathologist’s findings can help determine the future course of your treatment.


In the past, the only way for surgeons to remove cancer was through open surgery, cutting into the body to gain access to and remove the mass. Today, your surgeon may use procedures that are considered to be minimally invasive relative to older open techniques. For example, laparoscopic surgery uses a camera mounted on a thin flexible tube that enables the surgeon to see and manipulate special surgical instruments. These are all inserted through small incisions, which involve less risk and make your recovery shorter.


In some cases, these surgeries use robotic assistance to perform the surgery.


Surgery as a treatment is often combined with chemotherapy, radiation therapy or other cancer treatments.

Tumor Debulking (Cytoreductive) Surgery

Debulking surgery is done to remove part of a tumor when removing the whole mass would cause too much damage. The remaining cancer may then be treated with radiation therapy, chemotherapy or other cancer treatments.


Debulking is commonly used for advanced ovarian cancer and certain lymphomas.

Palliative Cancer Surgery

If your cancer is at an advanced stage, palliative surgery may be recommended to correct problems that are causing pain and disability. For example, some gastrointestinal cancers may grow to obstruct the intestines and interfere with digestion, and palliative surgery can be used to remove the blockage.

What to Expect from Cancer Surgery

The surgical approach your expert care team recommends will depend on the type and stage of your cancer, as well as your age and overall health.


Approaches to cancer surgery vary widely, so you and your medical team will work together to make sure that you understand exactly what will be done during the procedure, and that your questions about the surgery and expected outcomes have been asked and answered.