Operative Procedures

Exploratory Surgery

Exploratory surgery is surgery that is performed to look inside the body to help make a diagnosis. (https://www.cancer.gov/).

When cancer is suspected in an organ that is not directly accessible and a definitive diagnosis is not possible by biopsy or imaging, a physician may elect to do an exploratory surgery. Exploratory surgery may also be performed to inspect other organs and structures to determine the extent of cancer disease. Biopsies may be performed during the exploratory surgery and specimens will be examined histologically.

Historically, exploratory surgery has been performed with an “open” or conventional approach. Today, advances in medical technology enhanced imaging techniques like Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), Computer Tomography (CT Scan) and Positron Emission Tomography (PET scan) allow a physician to better examine a patient’s internal organs to determine diagnosis and extent of disease. If an exploratory surgery is warranted, a physician may elect a laparoscopic approach. Exploratory laparoscopy is a minimally invasive approach to exploring the inside of the body. Exploratory laparoscopy also allows tissue biopsy and some treatment options.

Based on the findings of the exploratory surgery, the physician may elect to

  • Perform definitive surgery immediately following the exploratory procedure
  • Rule out definitive surgery if the surgery reveals the cancer is inoperable
  • Perform a by-pass surgery as a palliative measure

All surgery, whether it is exploratory, definitive, or by-pass surgery, is described in an operative report.

Operative Report

The operative report is a detailed record containing

  • pre- and post-operative diagnosis
  • the name of the procedure
  • operative findings (location of the primary tumor, the size of the tumor, and the extent to which it has or has not spread beyond the primary site).

Close inspection of the operative report is crucial for a cancer abstract. What the surgeon sees is significant, especially if all of the malignancy is not excised or if no definitive surgery is done. An operative report may be the most complete description of the malignancy available.

Updated: December 28, 2023