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Does surgery make cancer spread faster because of oxygen exposure?

11 answers | Last updated: Jan 05, 2015
A fellow caregiver asked...

Does surgery make cancer spread faster because of oxygen exposure? Is it true that if someone has untreated cancer and needs surgery that the cancer spreads faster once the air hits that area?


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Ernest Rosenbaum, MD, is an oncologist affiliated with Stanford University and with the Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of California, San Francisco, where he...
93% helpful
Ernest Rosenbaum answered...

No, it's not true that exposing a tumor to the air can make cancer spread faster. I hear this fear all the time from patients, it's one of the most See also:
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common cancer myths. People seem to think that when you "open up" the body during surgery it somehow "stirs things up," and can cause tumor cels to spread but that's not the case at all.

When cancer metastasizes to other parts of the body, it does so because cancer cells get into the blood stream and travel to another part of the body where they lodge and begin to grow. (Although only a very small percentage of free cancer cells do actually take hold and cause a new tumor.) Exposure to air during surgery does not have any effect on this process. All surgery does is excise an area of cancerous cells from a particular part of the body so that only healthy cells remain.


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nina answered...

perhaps that myth is still around is because when surgery is done, the doctors find more cancer in other organs. when he tells the patient and family that more cancer has been found, they feel that is spread immediately when the body was open to the air. I agree it it is a myth. I am not a doctor


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A fellow caregiver answered...

I got this theory from people that were not told they had cancer, so that was no surgery performed and they have been living with it and not knowing it. Maybe the fear that takes over once you know makes your body weak and more cancer shows up. My dad once he knew it, starting dying with surgery, chemo and radiation.


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hwcontractor answered...

really always heard, and known people with cancer,whom after opened up passed in a very short time,really makes me leary of ,biopsies,scarry enough, suspecting cancer,big decisions ,i want all of this life i can have ,thanks for listening hw here


25% helpful
SuperWoman answered...

@ hwcontractor ... I hear what the other responses are and believe them, I guess. But like you mention, there's a part of me that is still very skeptical as to the truth behind this. My Aunt just past yesterday, 2.4.11, she was "up and about" and talking to us the day before her Bladder Cancer sugery, went in for the surgery last week on 1.26.11 and literally was incoherent ever since, and died 9 days later. Doesn't make sense to me ... we're confident she would have lived longer ... she wasn't on her "death bed" the day before the surgery when we talked to her...


LorXena answered...

I have had 36 surgeries in my lifetime. I have pancreatic cancer and create 7 different types of tumors, most of which are neuroendocrine and biochemically functional (in other words the tumors secrete proteins that change my biochemistry and cause suffering). I have lived 5 years with active, stage 4 pancreatic cancer. Without carefully planned and executed surgical intervention by my medical team at the Mayo Clinic, I do not think I could have lived this long with cancer. I hope one day to be in remission, but I know that is improbable. But, I now also know that a person can continue to live with cancer and have an OK life.


An anonymous caregiver answered...

I think Cancer spreading starts at the time of Biopsy CTC (circulating tumor cells) invade the blood stream, and if the Machropages can not take care of distrying them, the person will have a secondary Cancer.


An anonymous caregiver answered...

Hi this is only a belief in our ways as a New Zealand kiwi (maori) we were alway told that yes it does spread only our race that iknow of believe it there is no way to keep it secured once it is open


nakidsoul answered...

I had a friend [the paralegal for my lawyer that took my case for Workers Disability/Compensation against my former employer ...I had 3 discs in my back that had herniated from the lifting of too heavy of equipment without any assistance and under threat of reprimand for 'shirking' duty.] that went in for exploratory back surgery [for the cause of constant nagging pain that X-rays and MRIs couldn't find a cause for.] in late 2002, she was 37 at that time. She never even came out of the anesthesia. The law firm told me some weeks afterwards, when I called the office for some paperwork to be sent to my Pension Board and to confirm with the paralegal a 'Date' that we had agree to take with one another once the lawsuit was over as to avoid any, seemingly, improprieties doing so while my case was pending. They told me that when the doctors cut her open that she was so loaded with malignant cancer internally that it had so aggressively metastasized from being exposed to oxygen that "She was dead on the table, there wasn't a thing the doctors could do for her."
Either my Lawyers office told me a bunch of bull, didn't know what they were talking about, or some one answering these questions above is either mis-informed, not telling the whole truth or trying to sell people "How Safe Surgery Is"... and considering the price that surgeons get... that my Lawyers specialized in cases involving physical health, is the largest and oldest established firm in Sacramento, Calif. that handles such cases...I'd say get a second opinion from some other web site.


33% helpful
phern31 answered...

Although somewhat dated, the study found at the below web address found that a statistically significant link does, in fact, exist. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/9489877/


An anonymous caregiver answered...

According to many holistic doctors, cancer in fact can die when exposed to oxygen. One of the main natural treatments is oxygenization as cancer cannot live in an oxygen rich environment.