What Is Surgical Oncology?

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A branch of medicine known as surgical oncology focuses on the surgical treatment of cancer. Its primary purpose is to identify and remove any dangerous tumors in the body. Surgical oncologists are also able to diagnose cancer in patients and determine whether it has spread to other body areas.

Surgical oncologists are doctors who work to both diagnose and treat cancer. To come up with a treatment plan for patients, they collaborate with the patient's primary care doctor. Additionally, surgical oncologists may do surgery to treat the condition. Their primary responsibility is to eliminate cancerous tissues and tumors from the surrounding area. They also carry out procedures known as biopsies that determine whether the patient has cancer and how advanced it is. 

Surgical oncology can be helpful when the cancer is still in its early stages or more advanced. Surgery may not be right and appropriate for all types of cancer. However, it can be said that it is an effective treatment option for many types of cancer. (1)

Definition and Overview

The area of cancer treatment known as "surgical oncology" focuses on using surgery to identify, classify, and treat cancer as well as to relieve some of its symptoms. In accordance with the patient's detailed treatment plan, surgical oncologists collaborate with a diverse group of medical professionals to mix surgery with other therapies and procedures.

Surgery is recommended for a variety of conditions, including those where cancer is present or suspected. To diagnose cancer, treat a tumor or a portion of it, locate the cancer, ascertain whether it has spread, and assess whether it is impairing a person's ability to work, surgical oncology can be utilized.

In addition to supporting other forms of treatment, surgical oncology can be used to remove potentially malignant body tissue, place an infusion port, restore bodily appearance or function, and address side effects. (2)


Various types of surgery help cancer patients. Some oncological surgeries are used in conjunction with other types of treatment. These include

  • Curative surgery

When a tumor only exists in one location and a surgical oncologist can completely remove it, the procedure is performed. Before or after the procedure, the patient can require chemotherapy or radiation therapy.

  • Preventive surgery

The goal of preventive surgery is to remove tissue that does not currently have cancer but has the potential to become a malignant tumor. For instance, colon polyps can be regarded as precancerous tissue, and they might be surgically removed as a prophylactic measure. 

  • Diagnostic surgery

To determine whether cells are malignant, diagnostic surgery is often used. A tissue sample is removed during diagnostic surgery for testing and evaluation (by a pathologist at a lab). 

  • Staging surgery

The goal of staging surgery is to determine the severity of the disease or the extent of the cancer in the body. Laparoscopy is an example of a surgical staging procedure. 

  • Debulking surgery

When it would be too risky to remove the entire tumor, oncologists may perform this procedure. They take out as much of it as they can and use chemotherapy or radiation therapy on the remaining portions.

  • Palliative surgery

Cancer in its advanced stages is treated with palliative surgery. It works to alleviate discomfort or fix other issues that cancer or cancer treatment may have brought about rather than to cure cancer.

  • Supportive surgery

Supportive surgery enhances the efficacy of other cancer therapies. The placement of a catheter to assist with chemotherapy is an example of supportive surgery.

  • Restorative surgery

To improve or restore a person's glimpse or the functionality of a bodily component after therapeutic or other surgery, restorative surgery may be employed. For instance, breast reconstruction surgery may be necessary for some breast cancer patients to restore the physical contour of the damaged breast or breasts. (3)


Surgery is not suitable for all types of cancer, but it is an effective treatment option for many types. Oncology surgeons may recommend surgical oncology if patients have cancer cells in the:

  • Throat
  • Thyroid
  • Breast
  • Esophagus
  • Uterus
  • Bones
  • Colon
  • Skin
  • Lung
  • Pancreas
  • Spine
  • Gallbladder
  • Kidney
  • Liver (4)

Risks and Side Effects

The procedure itself, the medications taken, and the overall health could all result in potential complications during surgery. Generally speaking, the probability of adverse effects increases with surgical complexity.

Biopsies and little surgeries typically involve less danger than more extensive procedures. The most typical issue is pain at the surgery site. Additionally possible are localized infections and reactions to the local anesthetic medications.

There may be some adverse effects both during and following surgery. In general, these risks and side effects are not expected to be life-threatening.

  • Bleeding
  • Blood clots
  • Damage to nearby tissues
  • Drug reactions
  • Damage to other organs
  • Pain
  • Infections
  • Slow recovery of other body functions (5)

Post-Procedure and Follow-up

After the surgery, the patient may not want to eat or drink, but this is an important part of the healing process. The healthcare team may start the patient with ice chips or clear liquids. If the patient has a catheter that collects urine, they will check that the patient is urinating normally after removing it. They may want to measure the amount of urine you make by placing the patient in a special container. (6)


The healthcare team will likely try to move the patient as soon as possible after surgery. Sometimes they even walk the patient or take them to physical therapy on the same day or the next day. While it may be difficult to move around or get used to devices at first, these move the digestive tract to speed healing, aid circulation, and help prevent blood clots.

How quickly the patient recovers from surgery depends on the type of surgery and overall health. The patient should definitely ask the healthcare team what he or she can expect in the process immediately after the surgery.


Everyone's path to recovery is different. Surgical procedures vary in complexity and how quickly wounds heal. Helping the patient adjust to the changes being made to the body requires that they fully grasp the anticipated results of the operation before it is performed. It is completely normal to need time to get used to any permanent changes in the body.