Oncologic Surgery is a very big subject, stay with me on this and let’s clarify the term oncology and the specialties within this field. Oncology[i] is the study of cancer. An oncologist is a doctor who treats cancer. Usually, an oncologist manages a person’s care and treatment once he or she is diagnosed with cancer.

[i] ASCO Cancer.net. Types of Oncologists. https://www.cancer.net/navigating-cancer-care/cancer-basics/cancer-care-team/types-oncologists

The field of oncology has three major areas: medical, surgical, and radiation.

Medical Oncologist

treats cancer using chemotherapy or other medications, such as targeted therapy.

Surgical Oncologist

treats cancer using chemotherapy or other medications, such as targeted therapy.

Radiation Oncologist

treats cancer using radiation therapy

Other types of oncologists include the following:

Medical Oncologist

treats cancer using chemotherapy or other medications, such as targeted therapy.

Pediatric Oncologist

treats cancer in children. Some types of cancer occur most often in children and teenagers, such as certain brain tumours, leukemia, osteosarcoma, and Ewing’s sarcoma. But they sometimes occur in adults. In these cases, an adult may decide to work with a pediatric oncologist.


diagnoses and treats blood cancers, such as leukemia, lymphoma, and myeloma.

When it is determined cancer may be present, further tests may include:

Blood Tests

High or low levels of certain substances in your body can be a sign of cancer. So, lab tests of the blood, urine, or other body fluids that measure these substances can help doctors make a diagnosis. However, abnormal blood results are not a sure sign of cancer. Blood tests are an important tool, but doctors cannot rely on them alone to diagnose cancer.

Imaging Procedures

Imaging procedures create pictures of areas inside your body that help the doctor see whether a tumour is present. These pictures can be made in several ways:

  • CT Scan
    An x-ray machine linked to a computer takes a series of detailed pictures of your organs. You may receive a dye or other contrast material to highlight areas inside the body. Contrast material helps make these pictures easier to read.
  • Nuclear scan
    For this scan, you receive an injection of a small amount of radioactive material, which is sometimes called a tracer. It flows through your bloodstream and collects in certain bones or organs. A machine called a scanner detects and measures the radioactivity. The scanner creates pictures of bones or organs on a computer screen or on film. Your body gets rid of the radioactive substance quickly. This type of scan may also be called radionuclide scan.
  • Ultrasound
    An ultrasound device sends out sound waves that people cannot hear. The waves bounce off tissues inside your body like an echo. A computer uses these echoes to create a picture of areas inside your body. This picture is called a sonogram.
  • MRI
    A strong magnet linked to a computer is used to make detailed pictures of areas in your body. Your doctor can view these pictures on a monitor and print them on film.
  • PET scan
    For this scan, you receive an injection of a tracer. Then, a machine makes 3-D pictures that show where the tracer collects in the body. These scans show how organs and tissues are working.
  • X-rays
    X-rays use low doses of radiation to create pictures of the inside of your body.


In most cases, doctors need to do a biopsy to make a diagnosis of cancer. A biopsy is a procedure in which the doctor removes a sample of tissue. A pathologist then looks at the tissue under a microscope to see if it is cancer. The sample may be removed in several ways:

  • With a needle: The doctor uses a needle to withdraw tissue or fluid.
  • With an endoscope: The doctor looks at areas inside the body using a thin, lighted tube called an endoscope. The scope is inserted through a natural opening, such as the mouth. Then, the doctor uses a special tool to remove tissue or cells through the tube.
  • With surgery: Surgery may be excisional or incisional.
    • In an excisional biopsy, the surgeon removes the entire tumour. Often some of the normal tissue around the tumour also is removed.
    • In an incisional biopsy, the surgeon removes just part of the tumour.

What Are the Different Types of Surgery Used in Cancer Treatment?

Some surgeries are used in combination with other types of treatment. Types [i] of surgeries include:

Curative surgery

Curative surgery removes the cancerous tumour or growth from the body. Surgeons use curative surgery when the cancerous tumour is localized to a specific area of the body. This type of treatment is often considered the primary treatment. However, other types of cancer treatments, such as radiation, may be used before or after the surgery.

Preventive surgery

Preventive surgery is used to remove tissue that does not contain cancerous cells, but may develop into a malignant tumour. For example, polyps in the colon may be considered precancerous tissue and preventative surgery may be performed to remove them.

Diagnostic surgery

Diagnostic surgery helps to determine whether cells are cancerous. Diagnostic surgery is used to remove a tissue sample for testing and evaluation (in a laboratory by a pathologist). The tissue samples help to confirm a diagnosis, identify the type of cancer, or determine the stage of the cancer.

Staging surgery

Staging surgery works to uncover the extent of cancer, or the extent of the disease in the body. Laparoscopy (a viewing tube with a lens or camera is inserted through a small incision to examine the inside of the body and to remove tissue samples) is an example of a surgical staging procedure.

Debulking surgery

Debulking surgery removes a portion, though not all, of a cancerous tumour. It is used in certain situations when removing an entire tumour may cause damage to an organ or the body. Other types of cancer treatment, such as chemotherapy and radiation, may be used after debulking surgery is performed.

Palliative surgery

Palliative surgery is used to treat cancer at advanced stages. It does not work to cure cancer, but to relieve discomfort or to correct other problems cancer or cancer treatment may have created.

Restorative surgery

Restorative surgery is sometimes used as a follow-up to curative or other surgeries to change or restore a person’s appearance or the function of a body part. For example, women with breast cancer sometimes need breast reconstruction surgery to restore the physical shape of the affected breast(s). Curative surgery for oral cancer can cause a change in the shape and appearance of a person’s mouth. Restorative surgery may be performed to address these effects.

[i] Stanford Health Care. Types of Surgery for Cancer. https://stanfordhealthcare.org/medical-treatments/c/cancer-surgery/types.html

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