Your Treatment: Surgical Oncology

Surgical oncology is the oldest treatment for cancer and it remains a key component in the care of patients living with cancer. Surgical treatment together with medical and radiation oncology are the mainstays of cancer care. Depending on the type of cancer, surgery can occur before chemotherapy or after chemotherapy and/or radiation has been completed.

Surgery is a central aspect of care for people living with cancer.
As a result of new and better understanding of cancer growth, surgery can be used to prevent cancer in high-risk patients. For instance, the person who has a specific gene mutation may wish to have removal of an organ to prevent cancer's growth (cancers like testicular, colon, thyroid, breast and ovarian).

The diagnosis of cancer using new surgical techniques permits treatment at the earliest stage of cancer to increase the chance for cure. When cancer is a possibility, the surgeon is often the first doctor consulted. The surgeon obtains a small amount of tissue for examination under a microscope. A fine-needle aspiration involves placing a very thin needle into the mass to obtain tissue. An excisional biopsy means that the surgeon makes an incision through the skin and into the mass to obtain tissue. Sometimes the surgeon places a small marker to mark the area biopsied which guides the accuracy of later imaging studies.

Surgical resection of cancer continues to be the primary therapy to remove solid tumors. The surgeon's goal is to remove the primary tumor source and have "negative" margins to show that the tissue around the tumor is free of cancer cells. This is not always possible since many cancers start to invade other tissues before cancer is diagnosed.

The ability to stage cancer or determine where the cancer is in the body is called surgical staging. As a result of advances in technology, many surgeries are less invasive and have fewer complications than in the past. Newer techniques allow the surgeon to actually see the cancer, nearby organs and to obtain tissue for examination under the microscope during the surgical procedure

Rehabilitation after cancer diagnosis includes surgery that repairs or reconstructs healthy tissue to improve overall health.

Monitoring cancer patients after treatment can involve removing small amounts of tissue (biopsy) to look for cancer.

Surgery that is aimed at tumor control or symptom management for the patient whose cancer has come back or spread to another part of the body is called palliation.

If surgery has been discussed in consultation, be sure to alert the surgeon or anesthesiologist to previous problems with anesthesia. Also, be sure to provide a complete list of medications. Some medications have to be discontinued before surgery.


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