Atrium Health Navicent Specialty Center

Organ Cancer Surgery

Female doctor smiling

Surgical Oncology is a discipline within the field of general surgery that specializes in the surgical treatment of cancer. Organ cancer surgery is the oldest and still is the most widespread, most effective treatment and therapy available to treat different cancerous tumors.

What Does A Surgical Oncologist Do?

A surgical oncologist is different from a general surgeon in that a surgical oncologist is trained and can practice the discipline of general surgery in addition to being able to know how to modify and append different types of treatments to organ cancer surgery. This additional training to be a surgical oncologist usually takes about two years on top of the training received for general surgery. Included in this training are advanced methods in surgery, additional updated techniques in treating serious cancers and developing a keen understanding of additional treatment methods of anti-cancer treatment such as a working knowledge of chemotherapy and radiation therapy and how it integrates with organ cancer surgery.

How Does Organ Cancer Surgery Work?

A surgical oncologist's primary task is to treat cancer both through invasive and non-invasive means. This would mean that he should know how widespread the cancer is in the patient's body, whether or not organ cancer surgery is a viable option, if not completely removing the cancerous tumor, and how much of it can be removed so as to positively affect the patient's quality of life.

Before treating a patient, a surgical oncologist should know how much of the cancer is present in the patient's body before he can decide on the proper procedure, surgical or otherwise. Sometimes, a CT Scan or X-ray cannot detect the depth and scope of a tumor or the spread of cancer cells in a patient's body. This means that diagnostic surgery needs to take place, otherwise known as a biopsy.

Diagnostic Surgery

A biopsy is perhaps the most definitive way for an oncologist to diagnose a patient. A cut is made in the skin and the surgeon removes a part, if not all of the suspected cancerous tissue. There are two types of diagnostic surgery, incisional and excisional. Incisional surgery deals with the removal of only part of the suspicious tissue, while excisional surgery is removing the entire tissue, such as a lump or tumor for the purpose of evaluating and testing the tissue in a lab for a pathologist to look at. A report is submitted to the oncologist who then makes the diagnosis. Once a diagnosis is found positive, a surgical oncologist can make plans and propose treatment. If the treatment calls for organ cancer surgery, the oncologist schedules it.

Curative or Primary Surgery

This is the most common type of organ cancer surgery. It is more commonly referred to as tumor removal as that the procedure requires that the tumor, now found to be cancerous, be excised from the patient's body surgically, along with surrounding tissue, to prevent the spread of cancer cells post-surgery. In some cases, tumor tissue removal is paired with chemotherapy, radiation therapy is given before, or after the surgery to ensure that, the cancer is treated. Most of the time, large cuts, and incisions are necessary for primary organ cancer surgery. Healing takes a lot longer and added therapy may be needed at times. In some cases, additional reconstructive surgery may be needed to correct or adapt to the loss of tissue caused by the surgery. In some cases, there are organ cancer surgeries alternatives to primary surgery that can be done that are less invasive and can alleviate suffering and decrease healing time.

Minimally Invasive Surgery

Sometimes, some organ cancer surgeries do not require a large cut from a scalpel. Smaller incisions usually result in shorter recovery time and less pain. Some cancers are manageable and can be treated surgically through very small cuts through the skin using sophisticated, technologically advanced tools. Laparoscopic surgery, for example, utilizes a thin, lighted tube with a camera to be inserted through a small incision in the patient's skin. Laser surgery follows the same principle but uses a narrow beam of high-intensity light to cauterize certain cancerous tumors from inside the patient's body. Cryosurgery makes use of liquid nitrogen to "freeze" and kill cancerous tumors and cells.

Endoscopy requires a flexible tube with a camera at the end to examine internal organs and is inserted through the mouth or rectum. During this procedure, it is possible to remove samples for pathology.

For some cancers, especially those that are a little widespread or are already affecting major organs, debulking may be a viable option. This is when only part of the cancerous tissue is to be surgically removed as that removing the entire cancerous tissue could threaten the life of the patient. The appending of chemotherapy or radiation therapy may be necessary to treat cancer, as organ cancer surgery alone cannot get rid of it.

Surgical Oncology is Developing

There are many advances in the study of oncology. The discipline is one that is not without any developments, which is why research is necessary in all stages of the practice. Organ cancer surgery still remains to be the most reliable and widespread means of treating cancer and will continue to undergo developments which will lead to less invasiveness and longer, more definitive treatment of cancer for a better quality of life.