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.
British surgeon Ernst Wertheim introduces a new surgical technique, the 'Wertheim radical hysterectomy,' reporting that more than 30 percent of cervical cancer patients who underwent the surgery remained free of cancer after five years. This result is considered a monumental feat for the time, despite the fact that about 15 percent of women died during the procedure. The surgery, which involves the removal of the uterus, cervix and surrounding lymph nodes through an abdominal incision, soon becomes the standard treatment for uterine and cervical cancers. Over the following decades, however, it is refined to dramatically reduce the risk of complications, improve outcomes and leave more healthy tissue intact. The highly refined approach is still used today for patients with early-stage cervical cancer.