Understand the role of a surgical oncologist and how it contributes to the treatment of cancer.

Understand the role of a surgical oncologist and how it contributes to the treatment of cancer.

A surgical oncologist is a specialized medical professional who focuses on the surgical treatment of malignant cancers or tumors. They work closely collaboration with other oncology specialists, such as medical oncologists and radiotherapist oncologists, to provide comprehensive cancer care. Surgical oncologists are highly trained for surgery of tumors and have extensive knowledge and experience in the treatment of various types of cancer.

Surgical procedures

  1. Laparotomy
  2. Mastectomy
  3. Centinel lymphatic ganglion biopsy
  4. Collectomy
  5. Hysterectomy

Surgical oncologists perform a wide range of surgical procedures as part of cancer treatment. These procedures may include laparotomy, mastectomy, biopsy of the centinel lymph node, collectomy and hysterectomy, among others. The choice of surgical intervention depends on the type, stage and location of cancer.

Collaboration care

  • Medical oncologists
  • Radiotherapist oncologists
  • Pathologists
  • Radiologists

Surgical oncologists collaborate closely with a multidisciplinary team of health professionals to guarantee the best possible results for cancer patients. This team usually includes medical oncologists, radiotherapy oncologists, pathologists, radiologists and specialized nurses. The collaboration between these experts is crucial to determine the most appropriate treatment plan and ensure that patients receive personalized and comprehensive care.

Type of cancer Treatment options
Breast cancer Mastectomy, tumorectomy
Lung cancer Lobectomy, pneumonectomy
Colorectal cancer Collectomy, polypectomy

Role and Responsibilities of a Surgical Oncologist

Surgical oncologists are formed to know in depth the different types of cancer and their specific characteristics. They have experience in patient evaluation, cancer diagnosis and the determination of the most appropriate surgical approach. The treatment plan may include surgery as a primary treatment, or can be combined with other treatment modalities such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy.

Key Responsibilities:

  1. Evaluate the medical history of patients and perform exhaustive physical exams to identify cancer signs and symptoms.
  2. Request and interpret diagnostic tests, such as biopsies, image explorations and laboratory tests, to confirm the presence and scope of cancer.
  3. Consult with other specialists to develop a comprehensive treatment plan adapted to the specific needs of each patient.

A surgical oncologist directs the surgical equipment during cance r-related interventions, guaranteeing the highest levels of patient safety and surgical precision. They can perform various types of oncological interventions, such as tumor removal, dissection of lymph nodes, reconstructive procedures and minimally invasive surgeries.

  1. Inform patients and their families about surgical options, risks and possible benefits, as well as the general treatment plan and prognosis.
  2. Perform surgeries in accordance with established protocols and guidelines, using the most advanced techniques and technologies to achieve optimal results.
  3. Supervise the postoperative evolution of patients and provide continuous care, including the management of any complication or side effect that may arise.

The role of a surgical oncologist goes beyond the operating room. They actively participate in research and clinical trials, contribute to advances in surgical techniques and collaborate with other health professionals to improve oncological care on a larger scale. By combining their surgical skills, their medical knowledge and empathic approach, oncologists play a vital role in the fight against cancer and strive to offer the best possible results to their patients.

Training and Qualifications Required to Become a Surgical Oncologist

To be an oncologist surgeon, you must first get a degree and then take four years of medicine. During the medical career, candidates for surgical oncologists receive extensive training in medical sciences, such as anatomy, physiology, pharmacology and pathology. After obtaining their doctor’s degree (MD or DO), they will have to complete a residence program in general surgery, which usually lasts five years.

Residence program in general surgery:

  • The formation of residence in general surgery provides candidates for surgical oncologists a solid base in surgical skills and patient management.
  • During the residence, they acquire experience rotating for various surgical specialties, such as traumatological surgery, vascular surgery and pediatric surgery.
  • They also have the opportunity to participate in research projects and attend conferences to keep up to date with the latest advances in this field.

After completing their residence in general surgery, people interested in becoming surgical oncologists attend a scholarship program specifically focused on surgical oncology. This program usually lasts from two to three years and offers specialized training in the diagnosis, treatment and control of cancer through surgical interventions.

Research scholarship in surgical oncology:

  • During the scholarship, students of surgical oncology learn specific advanced surgical techniques for various types of cancer, such as breast, gastrointestinal or head and neck.
  • They also acquire experience in completing complex cancer surgeries, such as minimally invasive procedures and surgeries with organ preservation.
  • The scholarship program can also involve participation in multidisciplinary tumor joints and collaboration with other oncology specialists, which further improves its ability to provide comprehensive cancer care.

Once the Surgical Oncology scholarship is finished, people can choose to perform other subspecialization scholarships or start exercising as surgical oncologists. The training and qualifications required to become surgical oncologist guarantee that these health professionals have the necessary knowledge to offer specialized surgical care and based on evidence to cancer patients.

What are the key differences between surgical oncologists and medical oncologists?

Surgical oncologists: Surgical oncologists are specialized doctors in the surgical treatment of cancer. They are formed and trained to perform surgical procedures in order to remove tumors and cancerous tissue of the body. Its main objective is to eliminate or reduce the extension of cancer through surgical intervention. Surgical oncologists collaborate closely with a multidisciplinary team, which includes radiologists, pathologists and medical oncologists, to guarantee comprehensive patient care.

  • Surgical oncologists are main responsible for evaluating surgical viability and planning cancer treatment.
  • They perform surgical interventions to remove tumors, lymph nodes and affected tissues.
  • These specialists can use minimally invasive techniques such as laparoscopy or robot surgery for certain cases.

Surgical oncologists focus on the physical removal of cancer through surgical procedures, offering the possibility of a cure or a significant reduction in cancer load.

Medical oncologists: Medical oncologists, on the other hand, specialize in the non-surgical treatment of cancer. They use a series of systemic treatments, such as chemotherapy, immunotherapy, targeted therapy, and hormone therapy, to attack cancer cells throughout the body. Medical oncologists work closely with other healthcare professionals, including surgical oncologists, to develop personalized treatment plans for each patient based on factors such as cancer stage, type, and overall health.

  • Medical oncologists prescribe and administer various cancer treatments that work by killing cancer cells or inhibiting their growth.
  • They monitor patients’ response to treatment and make necessary adjustments to optimize results.
  • These specialists also provide supportive care to manage treatment side effects and improve overall quality of life.

Medical oncologists use drugs and therapies that target cancer cells throughout the body to control the spread and growth of cancer and prolong survival.

In summary, while surgical oncologists specialize in the surgical removal of cancerous tissue, medical oncologists focus on non-surgical treatment methods. Both specialties play a crucial role in comprehensive cancer treatment and work collaboratively to offer patients the best possible care and results.

Types of surgeries performed by surgical oncologists

  1. Lumpectomy: This is a breast-conserving surgery in which the oncologist removes only the tumor and a small portion of the surrounding healthy tissue. It is usually performed in the initial stages of breast cancer and its objective is to preserve the breast as much as possible. The goal of lumpectomy is to remove the cancer while maintaining the aesthetic appearance of the breast.
  2. Mastectomy: Mastectomy involves the complete removal of breast tissue and is usually recommended in advanced stages of breast cancer or in cases where there is a high risk of recurrence. There are different types of mastectomy, such as simple mastectomy, modified radical mastectomy, and radical mastectomy, which involve different degrees of tissue removal.
  3. Cytoreductive surgery: Cytoreductive surgery is usually performed in cases where the tumor cannot be completely removed, but its size can be reduced. This intervention aims to remove as much tumor tissue as possible, relieving symptoms and improving the effectiveness of subsequent treatments such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy.

Note: Surgical oncologists can also perform additional procedures such as dissection of lymph nodes, minimally invasive surgeries, reconstructive surgeries and palliative surgeries aimed at improving the quality of life of patients with advanced cancer.

The role of a surgical oncologist goes beyond these three types of surgery, since the state of each patient is unique and requires a personalized treatment. It is essential that people with suspected or diagnosis of cancer consult with a surgical oncologist experienced to determine the most appropriate surgical approach to their specific case.

The Importance of a Multidisciplinary Approach in Surgical Oncology


  1. Exhaustive evaluation: The multidisciplinary team performs an exhaustive evaluation of the state of each patient, taking into account various factors such as the type and stage of cancer, the general health status and individual preferences. This thorough evaluation helps determine the most appropriate therapeutic approach, whether surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy or a combination of these.
  2. Knowledge and experience: Each member of the multidisciplinary team brings a unique set of skills, knowledge and experience. Collaboration allows the exchange of ideas and opinions, guaranteeing that the treatment plan is well informed and testing. For example, an oncologist surgeon specializes in cancer operations and can provide information about the best techniques and surgical approaches for a specific case.
  3. Better results: by taking advantage of the collective experience of a multidisciplinary team, patients can benefit from a more personalized and effective treatment plan. Studies have shown that a multidisciplinary approach in surgical oncology leads to better results for patients, such as higher survival rates, lower recurrence rates and better quality of life.

Advances in technology and techniques in surgical oncology

Robo t-assisted surgery: One of the most notable advances in surgical oncology is the use of robot assisted surgery. This technique combines the experience of the oncologist surgeon with the precision and flexibility of robotic systems. The surgeon uses a console to control the robotic arms that perform the surgery itself, which allows very precise movements and a better visualization. This minimally invasive approach offers numerous advantages to patients, such as shorter hospital stays, lower postoperative pain and faster recovery times.

Molecular image: Another crucial advance in surgical oncology is the application of molecular image techniques. This technology allows surgeons to visualize and locate the cancer cells and their extension in the body. Through the use of specialized image agents aimed at specific molecules involved in cancer growth, oncologists can accurately identify tumor margins and lymph nodes affected by cancer. This information helps plan surgical intervention and guarantee the complete removal of the tumor, thus increasing the possibilities of success of treatment.

“Technological and technical advances in surgical oncology have allowed improving the results of patients and reducing the invasiveness of procedures.”

  • Robot assisted surgery offers precision and flexibility, which translates into shorter hospital stays and faster recovery times.
  • Molecular images allow surgeons to visualize and locate cancer cells, which contributes to the complete removal of the tumor.

In general, technological and technical advances in surgical oncology have had a deep impact on the way of treating cancer. By minimizing invasiveness, increasing precision and improving visualization, surgical oncologists can offer patients more effective and personalized treatment options, which increases the chances of obtaining satisfactory results.

Recovery and Follow-Up Care after Surgical Oncology Procedures

Postoperative care: After an intervention of surgical oncology, patients are usually closely monitored in a specialized postoperative care unit or in a oncology room. The health team will observe the patient closely to detect any sign of complications or adverse reactions to anesthesia. Pain treatment is an essential aspect of postoperative care, and health professionals will administer adequate analgesics to guarantee the patient’s comfort.

  • Physical rehabilitation: Depending on the type of surgical intervention performed, patients may need physical rehabilitation to recover strength, mobility and functionality. Surgical oncologists collaborate closely with physiotherapists to develop personalized rehabilitation plans that address the specific needs of each patient. These plans may include exercises, stretching and other techniques to recover muscle strength and improve general physical wel l-being.
  • Wound care: proper care of wounds is crucial to prevent infections and favor healing. Patients will receive detailed instructions on the care of their surgical incisions, which may include guidelines on the change of dressings, the maintenance of the clean and dry wound, and the surveillance of any sign of infection, such as redness, swelling or suppuration.
  1. Follo w-up quotes: After the initial recovery period, monitoring appointments will be programmed with the surgical oncologist. These appointments are crucial to supervise the patient’s progress, evaluate the results of the treatment and address any concern or question that the patient may have. During these appointments, the surgical oncologist can perform physical exams, request image tests or laboratory studies, and discuss other treatment options if necessary.
  2. Emotional support: recovering from an oncological surgical procedure can be an emotional challenge for patients. It is important that patients have access to emotional support, either through friends, family, support groups or advisory services. Surgical oncologists usually work in collaboration with other health professionals, such as psychologists or social workers, to ensure that patients have the necessary emotional support during their recovery process.

Recovery and monitoring care after oncological surgical interventions are fundamental components of the general cancer treatment process. Fulfilling postoperative instructions, going to monitoring appointments and seeking emotional support, patients can optimize their recovery and improve their possibilities of lon g-term success in their battle against cancer.

Important aspects of recovery and monitoring care
Postoperative care
Physical rehabilitation
Wound care
Follo w-up quotes
Emotional Support

Author of the article
Dr.Greenblatt M.
Dr.Greenblatt M.
Medical oncologist at the Robert Larner College of Medicine, MD, at the University of Vermont

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