What is Tumor Debulking?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Tumor debulking is a surgical procedure performed to remove as much of a tumor as is logistically possible. There are a number of factors that can influence the way this procedure is performed, including the type of tumor, location, and the patient's general health. This procedure can be performed by an oncology surgeon or a surgical specialist like a neurosurgeon for tumors in particularly delicate or difficult to reach locations. General surgeons can also sometimes be involved.

A patient's general health may influence the way tumor debulking is performed.
A patient's general health may influence the way tumor debulking is performed.

When tumors are initially identified, screening is done to determine the type of tumor, and its origins, location, size, and degree of spread. Cancerous tumors are staged to indicate how far the cancer has progressed and all of this information is taken into account when scheduling a tumor debulking.

Tumor debulking is a surgical procedure to remove as much of a tumor as possible.
Tumor debulking is a surgical procedure to remove as much of a tumor as possible.

The preferred treatment for cancerous tumours is removal of the entire tumor along with a healthy margin. Total removal with margins is designed to take out all of the malignant material and to remove any pre-malignant cells that might later divide and become cancerous, allowing the cancer to recur. However, sometimes it is not possible to take out a whole tumor. The location of the growth could force a surgeon to leave part of the tumor in place. Removing the whole tumor could be dangerous for the patient, requiring a lengthy surgery and exposing the patient to significant risks. In these cases, the goal is to take out as much as possible.

After a tumor debulking surgery, the smaller cancerous growth is more vulnerable to chemotherapy and radiation. This makes the prognosis for such treatments much better than if they were offered alone without any debulking surgery. Tumor debulking can also increase comfort for the patient. Large growths can be heavy and painful and may put strain on the patient's body. Removing some of the mass of a tumor can improve the quality of life for the patient.

When people are diagnosed with cancer and presented with treatment options, they can discuss the pros and cons of each treatment with their doctors. If tumor debulking is recommended, patients may want to ask the surgeon about experience with other patients, possible outcomes in their cases, the risks associated with the surgery, and what kinds of treatments will be available after the surgery. Patients are entitled to make informed choices about their treatment and to be involved in the development of treatment plans, and can ask for as much information as they need to feel comfortable making a decision.

The field of surgical oncology is a relatively new surgical specialty.
The field of surgical oncology is a relatively new surgical specialty.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@NathanG - I am not a fan of alternative medicine myself, and I’ve seen little proof (in peer reviewed journals at least) that any diet will cure cancer. Yes, I’ve heard claims, but these are mainly anecdotal.

Certainly it's possible that the wrong diet could make someone more vulnerable to cancer, but there are other factors as well, such as heredity. Once the cancer is there, I don't think diet can remove it.

I do agree with you however that chemotherapy should be an option of last resort. To me, using chemotherapy to blast out cancer is like blowing up your lawn to remove the weeds.

It’s the weeds that need to go, not the grass; I do believe that chemotherapy kills the good grass, so to speak, of good cell tissue. Doctors claim that it’s targeted and precise treatment but I’m not convinced.


I have a friend who had a cancerous tumor removed. After the debulking of tumor cells a new cancer started growing back only four months later. My friend is now on a big basket of drugs to fight the new cancer and is back to chemotherapy again.

I happen to believe that we should fight the cause and not the symptom; the symptom is the tumor, the cause is the cancer cells. Going deeper still, the cause of cancer cells in my opinion is an acidic system in the body.

Cancer lives in an acidic environment. It cannot live in an alkaline environment. I wish doctors would understand this and try to remedy the problem by using nutritional remedies, like an alkaline diet, that will help combat the cancer.

I also think that chemotherapy does more harm than good. It kills bad cells along with the good.

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