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Surgical Oncology

Surgical oncology is the branch of oncology that uses invasive interventions for the diagnosis, assessment, treatment and management of malignant tumours. Over the years, the modality of surgical oncology has evolved tremendously with the advent of a wide spectrum of surgical approaches and techniques that have made it possible to address the most complex cancers with added precision and accuracy.

Surgery is not an option for every patient and there are certain eligibility criteria that need to be fulfilled. The whole treatment plan is devised in accordance with the shape, size, nature and type of the tumour, as well as the overall health evaluation of the patient. The surgery may be combined with other treatments like chemotherapy or radiation therapy, so as to add to the effectiveness of the treatment. These may be given before the surgery to reduce the size of the tumour and make it easier to remove, or after the surgery to destroy cancerous cells that were left behind during the surgery.

Surgery can be performed using the conventional method, or via laparoscopic, minimally invasive or robot-assisted technique. The type of the surgery depends upon the location and size of the tumour.

Types of surgeries

  • Diagnostic surgery – Diagnostic surgery involves the collection and assessment of a tissue sample to determine whether it contains cancerous cells or not.
  • Staging surgery – Staging surgery aims at determining the extent to which the cancer has spread in the body. Staging of cancer is important to determine the treatment plan to be followed. The tissue sample is collected laparoscopically and examined for determining the stage of cancer.
  • Curative surgery – The aim of the surgery is to extract localized tumours from specific areas of the body. It is usually a primary treatment that may be used with other treatments like radiation therapy.
  • Radical surgery – Radical surgery uses an extensive approach and involves the complete removal of the tumour along with the surrounding tissues that have been affected. For instance, radical resection of soft tissue sarcomas.
  • Debulking surgery – The aim of the surgery is to extract as much tumour as possible so as to reduce bulk. Debulking is very important if the cancer has spread to a point where it cannot be removed completely. During the surgery, the doctors make sure that no cancerous mass, larger than 1 cm is left behind. This can help to improve the course of prognosis and add more years to the patient’s life.
  • Palliative surgery – The surgery aims at alleviating the signs and symptoms of cancer to improve the quality of the patient’s life. The surgery, however, does not impact the patient’s survival and solely helps to decrease the severity of the symptoms.
  • Supportive surgery – Supportive surgery, just like palliative surgery, does not cure the cancer, but rather helps to manage the symptoms. It only adds to the effectiveness of other cancer treatments. For instance, insertion of a catheter to give chemotherapy intravenously.
  • Reconstructive surgery – The surgery aims at the structural or functional restoration of organs that have been damaged by the cancer or removed as a part of the treatment. One of the most common examples of reconstruction surgery is breast reconstruction post-mastectomy.
  • Preventive surgery – Also known as prophylactic surgery, it aims at preventing the risks of cancer in certain organs or glands that are most likely to develop it. It involves the removal of tissues that do not contain any cancerous cell yet. For instance, removal of precancerous colon polyps.

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