Why can’t you just cut off cancer cells?


I know there’s a reason, but I don’t know what it is.

In: Biology

A lot of tumours ARE surgically removed. But there’s several big issues with that.

Surgery may leave small, microscopic pieces behind that could grow back.

Cancers spread, so a tumour may have already sent out metastatic cells to other parts of the body.

Most of your organs are necessary for you to live and there may be no way to remove a tumour without removing all or most of the organ.

Tumours may be in a surgically inaccessible area, ie the deep interior of the brain or on the brain stem, or inside the bone marrow (leukemia)

You can, right, I mean that’s one reason for amputations, just cut the part off(unless it’s a vital organ that it)

You can, and it is done way more than you think. The most recent story I heard was from a new coworker who had 18 inches of his lower colon removed due to extensive prostate cancer. He’s fine now. A lot of skin melanomas are just cut, frozen, or lasered off. Breast cancers are often cut out. The problem is they often return, or spread to other parts of your body, including your lymphatic system.

You can, but cancer cells can break off the tumor and spread throughout the body. Even if you cut out the main tumor, there may be cancer elsewhere and a new tumor will grow. This is why early detection is so important. You want to cut out the tumor before it spreads.

Cutting out a tumor is something doctors can try to do but in only works in specific circumstances. Many types of tumors can communicate with the body and request blood vessels be built to them and consume resources meant for other organs. In addition, they grow virulently and can grow around critical blood vessels and organs making it essentially impossible to cut out the entire tumor without risking killing the patient. Sometimes the tumors can grow and kill off the cells that form the walls of organs complicating the removal process. If even a single cancerous cell is left behind and not destroyed by the body – it can grow back into another tumor, so it can carry many risks.

Lastly, the most dangerous types of cancer are tumors that actively spread freely throughout the body. Cells can break off and float throughout the body and embed themselves elsewhere growing new masses simultaneously everywhere in the body. At this stage the tumors are likely inoperable – the only way to fight them is chemically or via other means.

You can but, if the cancer is malignant, it won’t stop the out-of-control growth cycle that caused them to form in the first place

You can. It’s just often not the only form of treatment (was step 2/3 for me)

If you’re lucky, they get all of it (negative margins). A positive margin indicates they couldn’t get all of the cancer cells.

And they’re getting better and better at it. My surgery was in 2019, surgeon said 30 years ago, they would have just taken my leg. So I’m thankful for the improvement.

Think of a tumor like a giant scab covering a wound that you can tell has healed but is still stuck on. You can’t just tear it off, you’ll open the wound and will bleed a lot, so instead what you do is wipe on some hydrogen peroxide (chemo/radiation or similar treatment) to slowly dissolve the edges and soften it up. You continue to do this over and over until you can carefully remove the entire thing without damaging the surrounding area. Then apply a little more in order to clean up the area and make sure there isn’t any scab you missed that could cause problems later.

Part of it is surgical shock that comes at a risk, while the ‘reward’ of such a surgery may involve not even getting rid of it, allowing it to grow back again.. I believe it’s similar to mold, since cancer can be as small as a single cell, what is seen may not be all there is.

Surgically cutting out cancer is routinely done. This is more common and effective for certain types of cancers, may not work for all cancer, but your question of “why can it not be done” is not true.

Common examples include surgically removing the breasts to remove breast cancer, or cutting out a section of the colon/intestines for colon cancer.

Once the cancer has metastasized throughout your body, leading to numerous tumours everywhere all over the body, then surgical removing of so many tumours becomes impossible.

Certain types of cancer may also carry high risk of side effects for surgery – such as having to remove a large section of a vital organ, or located in an area that’s difficult to access. So surgery is less desirable in these types of cancers and other treatments will be better.

TLDR: You can. But unless you remove every single cancer cell, the remaining ones can grow back into more tumors.


“Removing every single cancer cell” probably already sounds hard (it should, they’re microscopic!) but it’s worse than that because some of them might not even be attached at the tumor site anymore. Cancer tumors can shed off cancer cells that float through your body and blood until randomly sticking somewhere else in your body, and then they start growing into more tumors there. If that happens to be inside a vital organ like your pancreas or brain that thy can’t just cut off to make sure they’re removing ALL the cancer cells, you’re now in a very tough spot surgery-wise. This is where cancer drugs that can get to the tumor become even more important, when surgery isn’t possible.

it is like having multiple colored clays all mushed together in a ball , say you want to remove Red Clay. if Red clay does not take up too much space, is relatively still together is and big part of it is at surface , yo can just cut most of it pretty easily. But
There might still be bits of clay scattered in rest of the ball, can’t start cutting every small bit out or maybe majority of it is inside of the ball, it would make just cutting it difficult.

Kinda same with Cancer cells if they are concentrated in one spot that can be easily accessible and cut without doing too much damage to rest of body , they are cut but with Clay analogy it is not always an option

You totally CAN. What you can’t do is remove ALL the cancer cells and even worse than that, you can’t remove cancer cells without removing non-cancer cells. This is not so big of an issue for example with breast cancer. You remove the entire boob and hopefully the cancer cells have not spread out of the boob yet and boom, cancer gone. But of course this is a very drastic measure and for other types of cancer the cells are already all over the place so removing an organ is not enough, plus brain transplant is not a thing yet 🙂

There are two properties of a “better” cancer to get:

1. It is in a non life-sustaining organ
2. It can be delayed early (at stage 1)

My mum passed away for ovarian cancer & my wife has it (twice so far).

Ovarian fulfills the first criterium, but fails on the 2nd sir it usual presents symptoms similar to IBS etc.

And that’s the problem, when it has gone past stage 1, you can cut out the ovaries, but the cover has already did beyond into the abdominable space at least and you can’t cut that out. The cells will always be there and all you can do is suppress them through chemo but wait for the inevitable recurrence.

Well,… cancer is complex. But in its essence, cancer is a clump of parasitic cells growing in your body, and consuming your energy to grow ever larger. The real issue is that it ‘eats’ everything in its way. If those happen to be essential organs, they get eaten up.

So,… how do we get rid of cancer. There’s a couple of strategies. The real trick here is to get rid of cancer cells and not of the other cells that compose the healthy body. As the cells are very similar it is hard to do so. Chemotherapy essentially kills dividing and growing cells, so it targets those growing tumor cells more than normal body cells, but there are the side effects like hair loss (hair cells are essentially also actively growing cells, so they are affected by the chemotherapy). So, this is the chemical warfare we apply in cancer.

We can use radiation therapy, this basically microwaves the cancer in your body. By using very targeted ‘beams’ we avoid damaging the surrounding tissue, and target only the cancer cells. This is hard, because we don’t see what we’re doing while we’re doing it. This might also be tricky for certain cancers as we need to shoot our radiation through ‘healthy’ tissue as well if the cancer is deep, this leads to collateral damage.

A third, very common option is surgery, whereby you open up the body, cut out the tumor and get rid of it. This is very invasive, often leads to a lot of tissue damage due to the surgery. The big pitfall is that tumors are -most often- not separate organs, they usually are very well integrated in an other organ. This means that the surgical option is often used for ‘less essential’ organs. Typical a breast is removed in breast cancer (you will survive perfectly without breasts) or a kidney, or a part of the gut, or the prostate or…. If you take out the bladder, people need an external bag for urine collection afterwards etc… This is becoming a much larger problem with certain types of cancer like brain cancer, where you can not cut out a part of the brain without damaging other parts etc… So if chemotherapy and radiation fail with brain cancer, it’s often over and out, as attempting surgery (with our current technology) would most likely kill or severely damage the patient.

Other cancers like leukemia are even more tricky, because if you have a cancer of the blood, there can be cancer cell EVERYWHERE. Usually we attack the blood-creation organs (bone marrow) aggressively, and do a transplant with healthy marrow later etc…

tl, dr: Cancer is a bitch, it’s everywhere. Cutting it off works, but sometimes you need to cut soo much off that you would kill the patient.

That’s exactly what a team in Israel did for a patient with lung cancer.. the lung was cut out, and then the tumors were cut out, then re implanted.

Can’t do it for other organs… yet. Some stalwart probably would.

What is this question? Seriously

Answer: Cancer cells are cells where all the bodies failsafe’s for killing a cell have failed and is now creating copies of itself out of control that interfere with the bodies functions. Which means even if a single cell is left it will grow back. So doctors usually don’t even take the chance if its a particularly bad cancer

You can, and we do. But the problem with cancer is that is grows really fast and little bits break off and float around the body, then those little bits start growing in other parts of the body.

When that happens then it becomes really hard to even find all the cancer, let alone cut it out. That’s when we gotta fill the person with enough poison to kill the cancer, but not enough to kill the person.

Imagine a wet dog is like cancer, once it enters the house you have very little time where you can grab it and get it out the house before everything gets wet. but once it shakes it self dry removing it from the house will do little for the room, but it will prevent it from making the other rooms dirty. sometimes they will cut off the whole body part or room to prevent it from infecting other parts/room