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Understanding Tumor Excision with Frozen Section

A tumor is a lump or mass of tissue in the body that's not normal. Tumor excision is surgery to remove a tumor.

Frozen section is a way to examine the removed tumor. It's sometimes used to find out if the tumor is cancer. It's often used to help the surgeon decide how much tissue needs to be removed. It can show that the margins (edges) of the removed tissues don't have cancer cells in them. This decreases the chance that cancer cells are left behind.

Excision with frozen section is not right for all patients. Be sure you understand how it works. Talk with your healthcare provider about the pros and cons of this procedure and how it can benefit you.

Why tumor excision with frozen section is done

Excision with frozen section is usually done to help the surgeon remove the entire tumor without removing any more tissue than needed. This can usually be done in one procedure, so you don't need a second surgery. It might also be used to find out if the tumor is cancer. This then guides the surgeon on what needs to be done.

If cancer is found, tissue is taken out until no cancer cells are seen in the margins of the tumor. This helps the surgeon remove all the cancer cells in that area. Taking out all the cancer cells makes it less likely that the cancer will come back there.

Frozen section can be very useful when removing a skin tumor. It allows the surgeon to remove the changed tissue until it's gone. They then leave more healthy skin tissue in place.

How tumor excision with frozen section is done

  • Thin needles might be used to inject numbing medicine (local anesthesia) around the tumor to numb the area. Or you may be given medicine through an IV (general anesthesia) to make you drowsy or put you to sleep. This keeps you from feeling pain during the surgery.

  • The surgeon makes a cut (excision) around the area and takes out the tumor that can be seen.

  • The removed tissue (called a sample) is given to a healthcare provider (called a pathologist) who specializes in looking at and testing tissues for disease. The pathologist freezes the sample quickly. It's cut into very thin slices and looked at under a microscope.

  • If cancer cells are seen at the edges of the sample, the surgeon will take out more of the tissue in that area and again give it to the pathologist for testing.

  • This cycle is repeated until no cancer is seen at the edges of the removed tissue.

Risks of tumor excision with frozen section

  • Risks of anesthesia, like allergic reactions, nausea, confusion, and breathing problems

  • General risks of surgery, such as bleeding, infection, scarring, nerve damage, and pain

  • Need for a second surgery to take out more tissue

  • All of the cancer is not removed, and the cancer comes back (recurrence)

Talk with your healthcare provider about any questions or concerns that you have about the procedure.

Online Medical Reviewer: Jessica Gotwals BSN MPH
Online Medical Reviewer: Kimberly Stump-Sutliff RN MSN AOCNS
Online Medical Reviewer: Michael Lehrer MD
Date Last Reviewed: 3/1/2022
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