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.
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.
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.