What is Surgical Oncology?

Surgical oncology, simply put, is the surgical treatment and management of cancer. The main focus of surgical oncology is to find and remove tumors in your body. Oncology surgeons may also examine and remove surrounding tissue where cancer cells are present.

What Does a Surgical Oncologist Do?

An oncologist is a surgeon who will handle any of your cancer treatments that involve surgery. A surgical oncologist can also perform biopsy tests to evaluate the status of your cancer.

An oncologist also provides different levels of surgical care for cancer patients, depending on their needs.

Types of Tests That Surgical Oncologists Perform

  1. Excisional procedures for precancerous tissue (ex. Precancerous moles)
  2. Incisional surgery to remove part of cancerous tissue or precancerous tumors
  3. Laparotomy
  4. Endoscopic or laparoscopic surgery (minimally invasive surgery)

Each of these tests above serves to extract a portion of suspicious tissue so the oncologist can send it to a pathologist for testing. As a follow-up, a surgical oncologist might schedule a staging surgery to more closely examine cancer and to see if it has spread to other organs or tissues.

Surgical oncologists can perform different types of surgery in order to treat or manage cancer. 

  • Preventative surgery
  • Exploratory surgery
  • Staging surgery
  • Curative surgery
  • Debulking surgery
  • Supportive surgery
  • Palliative surgery
  • Reconstructive surgery
Is A Surgical Oncologist The Same As A General Surgeon?

No. However, a general surgeon might be able to perform several cancer surgeries. The main difference is that a surgical oncologist has been specially trained for the care of cancer patients and focuses their practice on treating cancer.

How Long Does It Take To Become A Surgical Oncologist?

In order to become a surgical oncologist, one must complete at least a five-year general surgery residency and then a two to three-year surgical oncology fellowship.

What Is The Difference Between Medical Oncology And Surgical Oncology?

Medical oncology focuses on treating cancer patients through medical therapy treatments. Specifically, a medical oncologist will provide treatments such as immunotherapy, radiation therapy, hormone therapy, and targeted therapy.

In contrast, surgical oncology focuses on treating cancer through surgical procedures that are selected based on the type of cancer.

What Qualifications Should A Cancer Surgeon Have?

Surgical oncologists should first have a bachelor’s degree, then have a four-year medical degree in order to become a doctor of medicine (MD). Future surgical oncologists may alternatively become doctors of osteopathy (DO). 

After completing a medical degree, surgeons will have to complete three or four years of additional medical training through internships and residency programs. Finally, an oncologist must have also completed at least three years of specialized oncology training.

When Should I See A Cancer Surgeon?

Your primary care physician will usually refer you to a cancer specialist. Usually, a referral is made after your doctor conducts some tests to verify or show that you might have cancer. Depending on what your doctor finds, you may be referred to a medical oncologist, a surgical oncologist, or a radiation oncologist.

From there, the cancer specialist may run more tests while working with other specialists to create the best treatment plan for you.

Cancer Surgery Procedures

Cancer surgery is as varied as the types of cancer. A surgical oncologist may go from performing minimally invasive procedures to complex cancer surgeries from patient to patient. However, the procedures that will be most effective for your case will depend on several factors, including:

  • The tumor’s type and location
  • The stage of the cancer
  • If you will need reconstructive surgery
  • Your overall health
  • Your medical history

Examples of Cancer Surgery

  • Thyroidectomy
  • Pancreatectomy
  • Skin Cancer Excision
  • Lung Surgery
  • Colorectal Surgery
  • Lobectomy
  • Throat Surgery
  • Lymphadenectomy
  • Lumpectomy

Potential Complications

Although cancer surgery generally is a safe treatment option, any type of surgery poses risks. Your surgical team will do everything in their power to reduce harmful risks from your surgery. 

Examples of Surgical Complications
  • Post-op pain
  • Infection
  • Blood loss
  • Blood clots

A thorough review of your medical history can help reduce many complications, especially allergic reactions to anesthesia or other medications.

Managing Pain After Cancer Surgery

It is normal to experience some pain and soreness in the part of your body that was operated on. Talk with your doctor or nurse before or after your surgery so they can help you know how to manage your post-op pain. They will give you specific recommendations for medication to use.

Where Will I Have Cancer Surgery?

Where you will have your cancer surgery will depend on a few different factors, including:

  • The type and location of your cancer
  • The type of surgery
  • How intensive or extensive your surgery is
  • The location of your surgeon’s practice
  • What kind of care is covered by your insurance

If you only need outpatient surgery, then you may only need to go to a doctor’s office. Surgeons also perform outpatient procedures at surgery centers and hospitals. Also, outpatient surgery means that you do not have to spend the night in the hospital–so you can go home the same day as your surgery.

On the other hand, inpatient surgery is when you need to spend at least one night in the hospital after your surgery. Usually, inpatient surgery is only performed in hospitals or facilities that can provide overnight care for patients.

What to Expect When You Meet With a Surgical Oncologist

When you first visit an oncologist, you should plan for the appointment to last a couple of hours. The goal of this first appointment is for your doctor to get to know you and your needs. They will conduct a thorough physical examination and medical history review.

Depending on your symptoms, your oncologist might order more tests so they can better understand your condition. You may need to receive a CT scan, x-rays, blood tests, MRIs, ultrasounds, and biopsies. Although you generally won’t need to go under all of those tests in one appointment.

At the end of your first appointment, your oncologist will give you an idea of what your treatment will look like. They will also help you understand how long you should expect your treatment to take, as well as your prognosis. 

Your oncologist will also help you understand what type of surgery will be the most effective treatment for you. Feel free to ask them any questions about your anticipated recovery time after the surgery, as well as when you can return to work.

Forming Your Cancer Care Team

When you meet with one of the surgical oncologists at The Surgical Clinic, they will help you start forming your cancer treatment team. Our oncology treatment approach is always customized for each patient according to their needs. Your team of providers will include your surgeon, your primary doctor, as well as a highly-skilled team of nurses, a nutritionist, and other providers.

Visit The Surgical Oncologists at The Surgical Clinic

For more information about surgical cancer care, contact the surgical oncology team of The Surgical Clinic. We will work with you in developing a cancer treatment plan that works best for your situation. For more information about a surgery or preparing for surgical treatment, visit our About Surgery page to learn more.