What Does a Surgical Oncologist Do?

Cancer is a devastating disease that affects millions of people every year. While many cancers can be treated with chemotherapy and radiation therapy, surgery remains a critical component of cancer treatment. That’s where surgical oncologists come in. These highly trained medical professionals specialize in surgical cancer treatment, working alongside other healthcare providers like hematology oncologists to provide patients with the best possible outcomes. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at what surgical oncologists dod how they help patients in their fight against cancer. So, let’s dive in!

What Is a Surgical Oncologist?

A surgical oncologist is a specialized surgeon focusing on diagnosing, staging, and treating cancer through surgical intervention. They are responsible for determining if surgery is the best course of action for a patient’s cancer treatment and, if so, performing the necessary surgical procedures. Part of their role and responsibilities as physicians include working closely with other members of a patient’s cancer care team.

Surgical oncologists work closely with other members of a patient’s cancer care team, such as medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, and pathologists, to develop a comprehensive treatment plan that meets each patient’s unique needs. They also play a key role in helping patients manage their cancer-related symptoms and side effects before and after surgery. The American Cancer Society provides excellent resources on how cancer is treated.


What Does a Surgical Oncologist Do?

One of the primary responsibilities of a surgical oncologist is to perform cancer surgery, which involves removing cancerous tissue from the body. This can include removing tumors, lymph nodes, and other cancerous tissue and reconstructive surgery to repair any damage caused by the cancer or its treatment. You can check out the American Society of Clinical Oncology resources for more information about the surgical oncologist’s work.

Surgical Techniques and Technologies Used by Surgical Oncologists

Surgical oncologists use a variety of surgical techniques and technologies to perform cancer surgery, depending on the type and stage of cancer, the location of the tumor, and other factors. Here are some of the most common surgical techniques and technologies used by surgical oncologists:

  • Laparoscopic surgery: This minimally invasive surgical technique involves making small incisions in the abdomen or pelvis and using a thin, flexible tube with a camera and instruments to perform the surgery. Laparoscopic surgery can remove tumors from the colon, stomach, liver, and other organs.
  • Robotic surgery: Robotic surgery is similar to laparoscopic surgery but uses a robotic system to control the instruments. The surgeon sits at a console and uses hand and foot controls to manipulate the instruments attached to robotic arms inserted through small incisions in the body.
  • Open surgery: Open surgery involves making a larger incision in the body to access the tumor and surrounding tissues. This type of surgery is typically used for larger tumors or tumors located in difficult-to-reach areas.
  • Cryosurgery: Cryosurgery involves using extreme cold to destroy cancer cells. The surgeon inserts a probe into the tumor and uses liquid nitrogen or argon gas to freeze the tumor and surrounding tissue, which causes the cells to die.
  • Laser surgery: Laser surgery uses a high-intensity beam of light to destroy cancer cells. The surgeon directs the laser at the tumor, which heats and destroys the cells.
  • Mohs surgery: Mohs surgery is a specialized technique to remove skin cancers. The surgeon removes thin layers of skin and examines each layer under a microscope to check for cancer cells. This process is repeated until all cancer cells have been removed.
  • Sentinel lymph node biopsy: This surgical technique removes the first lymph node that cancer will likely spread to from the primary tumor site. The lymph node is then examined under a microscope to determine if cancer cells are present.
When Does an Oncologist Get Involved?

An oncologist typically gets involved in a patient’s care after a cancer diagnosis has been made. Oncologists are medical doctors who specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. They work closely with other healthcare professionals, such as surgical oncologists, radiation oncologists, and pathologists, to develop a comprehensive treatment plan for each patient.


Surgical Oncologist Comprehensive Treatment Plan

Surgical oncologists are crucial in a comprehensive treatment plan for cancer patients. Their role involves:

  • Evaluating and staging tumors,
  • Performing cancer surgery, and
  • Coordinating with other specialists to ensure patients receive the most effective treatment. 

Here are the key components of a surgical oncologist’s comprehensive treatment plan:

  1. Evaluation and diagnosis: The surgical oncologist evaluates the patient’s medical history, performs a physical exam, and orders diagnostic tests to diagnose the type and stage of cancer.
  2. Treatment planning: The surgical oncologist works with other cancer specialists, such as medical oncologists and radiation oncologists, to develop an individualized treatment plan based on the patient’s specific cancer type, stage, and overall health.
  3. Surgical intervention: Surgical oncologists perform cancer surgeries, including tumor removal, lymph node dissection, and reconstructive surgery. They use the latest surgical techniques and technologies to minimize surgical trauma and maximize cancer removal.
  4. Follow-up care: The surgical oncologist provides ongoing monitoring and follow-up care to ensure the patient’s recovery is progressing as expected. They may order follow-up imaging tests and blood work to monitor for any signs of cancer recurrence.
  5. Palliative care: In cases where cancer is advanced or has spread to other parts of the body, surgical oncologists may work with palliative care specialists to manage pain and other symptoms associated with cancer.

Overall, a surgical oncologist’s comprehensive treatment plan involves a team approach to provide cancer patients with the most effective and personalized care. Their expertise in surgical interventions and coordination with other specialists ensures patients receive a holistic treatment plan that maximizes their chances of recovery.

They play a critical role in the fight against cancer by providing patients with specialized surgical care and working with other healthcare providers to deliver comprehensive cancer treatment.

Oncology Procedures

Oncology procedures are medical procedures performed by oncologists to diagnose, stage, and treat cancer. Here are some of the most common oncology procedures:

  1. Biopsy: This is a procedure to remove a small sample of tissue from a suspected tumor or abnormal area of the body to be examined under a microscope to determine if cancer cells are present.
  2. Imaging tests: Imaging tests such as X-rays, CT scans, MRI scans, and PET scans are used to identify the location and extent of tumors in the body.
  3. Endoscopy: This procedure involves using a thin, flexible tube with a camera and light to examine the inside of the body, such as the digestive tract, lungs, or bladder, to identify abnormal growths or tumors.
  4. Blood tests: Blood tests can be used to detect certain types of cancer, monitor cancer treatment, and evaluate how well organs, such as the liver or kidneys, are functioning.
  5. Radiation therapy involves using high-energy radiation, such as X-rays or protons, to kill cancer cells or shrink tumors.
  6. Chemotherapy involves using drugs to kill or stop cancer cells from growing and dividing.
  7. Immunotherapy: This procedure uses the body’s own immune system to fight cancer cells by stimulating the immune system or using antibodies to target cancer cells.
  8. Surgery: This procedure involves removing cancerous tissue from the body, which may be used alone or combined with radiation or chemotherapy.

Overall, oncology procedures are tailored to the specific type and stage of cancer and the patient’s overall health and treatment goals to provide the most effective and personalized care.

General Surgeon vs. Surgical Oncologist

General surgeons and surgical oncologists are both medical professionals who perform surgery. However, there are some key differences between the two specialties.

Training and Education:

  • General surgeons complete a five-year residency in general surgery after completing medical school. During their residency, they gain experience in a wide range of surgical procedures.
  • Surgical oncologists are also trained as general surgeons, but they complete an additional two to three years of fellowship training specifically in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer.


  • General surgeons typically perform a variety of surgeries, including those related to the gastrointestinal tract, liver, pancreas, and other organs.
  • Surgical oncologists specialize in the surgical management of cancer, including diagnosing and staging cancer, removing cancerous tumors, and performing other cancer-related surgeries.

Treatment Approach:

  • General surgeons may treat cancerous tumors if they are located in areas that are commonly operated on, such as the colon or liver.
  • Surgical oncologists are specifically trained to treat cancerous tumors and work as part of a multidisciplinary team to develop a comprehensive treatment plan that may include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted therapy, or immunotherapy.


  • General surgeons have experience in a variety of surgical procedures, but they may not have the same level of expertise in complex cancer surgeries.
  • Surgical oncologists have specialized training and experience in performing complex cancer surgeries and managing the unique needs of cancer patients.

Overall, while both general surgeons and surgical oncologists are skilled in performing surgery, surgical oncologists have additional training and expertise in treating cancer. They work closely with other members of the cancer care team to provide comprehensive care for cancer patients, from diagnosis through treatment and follow-up care.


Surgical Oncologist Salary

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for physicians and surgeons, which includes surgical oncologists, was $208,000 as of May 2020. However, salaries can vary depending on several factors, such as years of experience, geographic location, and type of employer.

In general, surgical oncologists are considered specialists and may command higher salaries than general surgeons. Additionally, those working in academic medical centers or other research-intensive environments may receive additional compensation for their research efforts.

It is important to note that salary should not be the sole determining factor in choosing a career as a surgical oncologist. The field requires significant training, dedication, and the ability to work collaboratively with other healthcare team members to provide the best possible care for cancer patients.


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