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Treatment: Palliative Surgery for Cancer

The aim of palliative surgery is to relieve the symptoms or to prevent complications rather than to cure the cancer. Palliative surgery may be performed to remove an unsightly growth; to relieve or remove an obstruction that is due to a tumour, particularly within the digestive or respiratory tract; to cut nerves that transmit pain signals; or to prevent fractures of bones that are weakened by cancerous deposits. Two common examples of palliative surgery for cancer are described here.

Relieving an obstruction

If narrowing of an airway or of the intestine is causing symptoms, a rigid incompressible tube, known as a stent, can help to keep the passage unblocked. Often under general anaesthesia, the stent is pushed through the obstruction to open up or widen the affected passage.

Oesophageal stent

The oesophagus has become narrowed by a tumour, which makes swallowing difficult. A rigid plastic tube (stent) inserted to widen the oesophagus makes swallowing easier.


Before surgery

After surgery

Preventing fractures

If cancer spreads from elsewhere in the body to an area of the bone, the affected bone becomes weak and thin and may eventually fracture. To help to prevent fractures from occurring and allow a person to remain as active as possible, the bone may be pinned using a metal rod.

Pinning the femur

Cancer has spread to the femur from elsewhere in the body. The metal rod supports the affected area of bone to prevent a fracture.


Before surgery

After surgery

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

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