18 May

You may be frightened of having any operation at all for cancer because you have heard that ‘letting the air in’ makes the cancer grow and spread much more quickly. What facts support this belief? How heavily should it weigh when you are considering the possible costs of a proposed operation?

It is true that some people die of cancer very soon after having an operation for it. If you look into it you will find that most of these patients have had operations which consisted simply of opening them up, having a look and closing them up again. In other words, most of these patients already had extensive cancer before their operation, so extensive that no useful procedure was possible. Rather than asking ‘Did the operation aggravate their cancer?’, I think questions such as these are more important: ‘What was the purpose of operating at all?’ ‘What possible benefit was expected?’ ‘Couldn’t they have found out before operating that it would not be possible to do anything useful?’

‘Open and shut’ operations should hardly ever happen. They can usually be avoided by careful assessment of patients. The diagnosis and probable extent of disease should be established by tests before any operation is planned. A properly-planned procedure is rarely made impossible by finding something unexpected when the patient is operated on.


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