Cancer Surgery

We use a personalized approach to your cancer treatment. A team of experts work together to determine how to best fight your cancer, using all the tools available, including chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, and surgery. There are several types of surgery and different techniques used at the UAB O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Surgery Types

Surgery is used to treat many kinds of cancer. Removal of cancer cells, or tumors, is the most common cancer surgery. It’s often very effective, especially when the cancer hasn’t spread to other parts of the body. There are surgeries that aim to prevent cancer, some that help to repair areas damaged by cancer, and others to diagnose cancer. Often, surgery is used alongside other therapies, like chemotherapy, to fully treat the cancer. The main types of cancer surgery include:


Sometimes surgery can help lower the chance of getting cancer. One example of preventive surgery is breast removal, a potential option for those with a family history of breast cancer or genetic mutations of the BRCA genes 1/2. Another example is when polyps are removed during a colonoscopy procedure. Polyps can turn into cancer so removing them during the procedure is consider preventive.


To diagnose some cancers, a biopsy is done to remove a small piece of tissue from the tumor – either through a small incision or through a needle. The tissue sample is then reviewed under a microscope by a pathologist.


Staging surgery is often used to see how large a tumor is or if cancer has spread beyond a certain area. Tissue is removed from the area and reviewed under a microscopy by a pathologist. Sometimes, during staging surgery, the surgeon may remove the entire tumor, a sample of tissue, or lymph nodes to help contain the spread of cancer cells.

Tumor Removal

This common type of surgery is referred to as “resection” or “excision” and is generally a way to remove the cancerous tumor along with some tissue around the tumor to make sure all cancer is removed.


Some cancer surgeries are done to help with the side effects of cancer, like pain and pressure, especially for those with untreatable or more advanced cancers. Palliative surgery is used to help the patient have improved quality of life.


Some cancers and treatments cause changes in appearance that reconstructive surgery can help restore. Breast reconstruction after a mastectomy is one example. Another is surgery to restore appearance after head or neck surgery.

Surgical Techniques

At the UAB O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center, we offer advanced surgical procedures that cause less damage to healthy tissue around the tumor, are less painful, and have quicker recovery times. These are often referred to as “minimally invasive.” These are some of the minimally invasive surgery techniques used at O’Neal:

Breast Cancer Surgery

Patients with breast cancer have access to the most advanced, personalized, and complete care available at the UAB O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center. Breast cancer surgery is often used, in combination with other therapies, to treat breast cancer. There are several types of surgeries available, and our team of experts will work together to determine which may work best for you.

Mohs Surgery

Mohs micrographic surgery – also known as Mohs surgery – is used in the treatment of skin cancer. It is an advanced procedure where a very thin layer of the tumor is removed and reviewed with a microscope to check for cancer cells. The surgeon continues that, looking at each layer, until no more cancer cells are seen. This surgery is very successful and helps to minimize damage to skin.

Photoablation (laser surgery)

Photoablation uses a very precise, high-powered beam of light – or a laser – instead of a scalpel to destroy tumors or cancerous tissue. This surgery is used in treating some gynecologic cancers, lung cancer, and skin cancer.

Radiofrequency ablation (targeted heat)

Radiofrequency ablation surgery, also known as RFA, sends heat through a small needle to destroy cancer cells. It is an effective surgery that may be used to treat liver, lung, and kidney cancer, among others.

Robotic surgery

Robotic surgery is sometimes used to treat colon, prostate, and uterine cancers. A doctor controls the arms of a machine – or robot – while wearing high-powered magnifying goggles, to reach the cancer cells. This very precise method can reduce blood loss, lessen pain, and lead to faster healing.

Stereotactic radiosurgery

Stereotactic radiosurgery, also referred to as stereotactic radiation surgery, is an advanced procedure that uses radiation as the “knife”, without ever cutting into the skin. Often used to treat brain cancers, this type of surgery allows your doctor to deliver large doses of radiation to very small areas, to precisely reach the tumor.

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