Simply put, curative surgery is a surgery that results in a cure from some disease. While many medical treatments simply reduce symptoms or slow the progression of a disease, many surgeries result in an actual cure.
While curative procedures take place in several different settings and across different specialties, the strictest definition of curative surgery is in cancer treatment. The term curative surgery refers to the resection of removal of the entire tumor. Often the goal of cancer surgery is a curative surgery though for some this may not be possible. If curative surgery is not possible, the resection of a tumor is sometimes referred to a palliative surgery (surgery to reduce symptoms) and cytoreductive surgery (surgery to decrease the amount of tumor present in the body).
In a broader sense, there are numerous examples of curative surgery. Perhaps the most straightforward of these curative procedures are ones in which a diseased organ or tissue is removed. For example, consider a patient who enters the hospital with a fever, chills, and severe abdominal pain which, after some additional investigation, is diagnosed with acute appendicitis. The curative surgery in this case would be an appendectomy. The same situation exists for an inflamed gallbladder-the curative procedure in this case is a cholecystectomy.
Removal of an organ can be curative even if it is not inflamed. For example, the spleen is quite vulnerable to trauma and can bleed profusely if it is torn or ruptured. A spleen can rupture after any high speed impact in just the right spot on the body (upper left abdomen or left flank). If the spleen is ruptured, the affected patient can bleed to death rather rapidly. An emergent splenectomy or spleen removal surgery is a curative surgery because the blood vessels to and from the organ are clamped and hemorrhaging is stopped.
There are curative procedures in obstetrics and gynecology, too. If a women has an ectopic pregnancy, that is, a pregnancy that begins to grow somewhere other than the womb (uterus), it can lead to internal bleeding and death if not corrected. A gynecological surgeon can perform a curative surgery and remove the ectopic pregnancy.
Curative procedures are not limited to surgical specialties. Dermatology, a medical profession, is in the business of performing curative procedures. Abnormal or diseased growths on the skin can and should be removed. Often the skin lesion is a cancer and simply removing it from the skin is a curative procedure.
In some cases, a single procedure can be diagnostic, therapeutic, and curative. Consider a woman that has a breast lump that causes pain in her chest. It is not clear from mammography and other testing whether this is a malignant breast cancer or not. Since the mass is causing symptoms, the decision is made to remove the lump surgically. A lumpectomy is performed and the lump is sent to a pathologist for diagnosis. Once the tumor has been removed and the patient has recovered from the surgery, the pain in the chest is resolved. Thus the procedure is therapeutic as well as diagnostic. The pathology report indicates that the tumor was cancerous but that there were no cancerous cells extending outside of the mass. Thus the lumpectomy is also a curative surgery.