Oncology Defined

Understanding the Role of Surgery in Oncology

surgeons hands image
Healing Hands-Surgeon & Patient. Photo: © Getty Images

Definition: Oncology is the specialty of treating cancer. Oncological surgery is the treatment of cancer with surgical procedures.

There are many types of cancer surgeries, as there are many types of cancer.  Surgeries range from the treatment of prostate cancer to breast cancer and brain cancer.

An oncologist is a physician who specializes in the treatment of cancer, and like a surgeon, may be an MD or a DO.

 These physicians are not surgeons, and if there is a need for surgery, the patient is then referred to a surgeon, who may or may not specialize in the treatment of cancer.  

Most surgeons specialize in a specific area or system of the body.  For example, a vascular surgeon specializes in the procedures that are performed on arteries and veins, but those blood vessels may be almost anywhere in the body.  A brain surgeon only performs surgery on the brain and spinal cord, and would be an appropriate choice for a patient diagnosed with brain cancer that requires surgical treatment.

No one type of surgeon performs all types of oncology procedures.  In fact, many cancer procedures are performed by a specialist who may or may not specialize in the treatment of cancer.  For example, a patient who has lung cancer is typically treated surgically by a cardiopulmonary surgeon, who may perform a wide variety of lung procedures.

If a patient has invasive skin cancer on their face, the surgeon may be a plastic surgeon who is accomplished at minimizing scarring and the disfiguring effects of surgery.  

Also Known As: surgical oncology, oncology, oncologist

Examples: When the patient was diagnosed with cancer, it was recommended that he see a surgeon who was skilled at oncology 

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