Early surgical techniques were radical, removing both the cancer and surrounding healthy tissue, often resulting in long recovery times, life-changing disability, and in some cases, severe cosmetic disfigurement. Today's surgical techniques and technologies are more precise with fewer complications. Women with early-stage breast cancer can now avoid disfiguring mastectomies, people with colon and rectal cancer can maintain their bowel function, and men with prostate cancer can often avoid incontinence and loss of sexual function.
A large clinical trial suggests for the first time that surgery to remove additional lymph nodes in patients with intermediate-thickness melanomas does not improve melanoma-specific survival. This finding suggests removal of the surrounding lymph nodes – a standard practice when cancer is identified in the sentinel node via lymph node biopsy — may not be necessary, helping spare patients from the side effects of the more extensive surgery.