Debulking surgery, also called cytoreductive surgery, is a resection of the tumor as much as possible and an intended incomplete resection for unresectable malignant tumors. Since the most important principle in surgical oncology is complete R0 resection, debulking surgery goes against the basic principle and obscures the concept of operability. However, debulking surgery has been advocated for various types of advanced malignant tumors, including gynecological cancers, urological cancers, gastrointestinal cancers, breast cancers and other malignancies, with or without adjuvant therapy. Positive data from randomized trials have been shown in subsets of ovarian cancer, renal cell carcinoma, colorectal cancer and breast cancer. However, recent trials for renal cell carcinoma, colorectal cancer and breast cancer have tended to show controversial results, mainly according to the survival improvement of nonsurgical systemic therapy alone. On the other hand, debulking surgery still has a therapeutic role for slow-growing and borderline malignant tumors, such as pseudomyxoma peritonei and thymomas. The recent understanding of tumor heterogeneity and clonal evolution responsible for malignancy and drug resistance indicates that select patients may obtain prolonged survival by the synergistic effect of debulking surgery and novel systemic therapy. This review aimed to describe the current status and evidence of debulking surgery in a cross-organ manner and to discuss future perspectives in the current era with advances in systemic therapy.
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