Preventive Surgery

In a preventive surgery, the surgeon removes tissue that does not yet contain cancer cells, but has the probability of becoming cancerous in the future. This may also be referred to as prophylactic surgery.

  • Example: Based on genetic tests, a woman whose mother has ovarian cancer has a higher than average risk of developing ovarian cancer. After a thorough discussion and consideration with her physician the woman elects to remove her ovaries to avoid the risk of ovarian cancer. The procedure is called prophylactic oophorectomy(removal of both ovaries).
  • Example: A woman is diagnosed with breast cancer. Her history and physical indicate she has a strong family history of breast cancer. Her BRCA-1 genetic test returns positive. Her physician may decide to discuss a prophylactic mastectomy surgery with her to remove the opposite breast. The prophylactic mastectomy is a preventive mastectomy intended to prevent a later cancer diagnosis in the opposite breast.
  • Example: Patients who have a congenital or genetic trait that creates a high risk of developing cancer may benefit from preventive surgery. Studies have shown that half of the patients with familial polyposis of the colon, without a preventive colectomy, would develop cancer of the colon by age 40, and all would develop the disease by age 70.

Pros and cons exist for preventive surgeries. Therefore, the decision of a preventive surgery should only be considered after a careful discussion between the surgeon and the patient.

Add years to life expectancy Alteration in sexual and reproductive function
Reduce likelihood of cancer occurrence Changes in self-image
  No guarantee that cancer will never occur

For some primary sites, preventative surgeries are recorded in the cancer abstract. Current SEER Registry requirements can be found in the SEER Program Coding and Staging Manual.

Updated: December 21, 2023