EASTERN NIAGARA HEALTHLINES: An overview of surgical oncology

Dr. David Crooks

A diagnosis of cancer can be devastating. Fortunately, over the years, advances in medicine have provided physicians with new methods of treatment and developments that can often cure the disease or slow progression. Surgical oncology is sometimes an option.

Surgical oncology is the use of surgery to remove cancerous tumors, help physicians diagnose cancer or stage it. Surgical oncologists are surgeons with special training in treating cancer who are often first called in to diagnose cancer with a biopsy. The results of these biopsies are reported in stages. Stage I means the cancer is small and only located in one area of the body. This is also called early-stage cancer. Stages II and III mean the cancer is larger and has grown into nearby tissues or lymph nodes. Stage IV means the cancer has spread to other parts of your body. It's also called advanced or metastatic cancer.

Surgical oncology may be used alone or in conjunction with other types of treatment. Not all cancers can be treated with surgery. For example, in most blood cancers, such as leukemia, there is no tumor or mass for the surgeon to remove. In other instances, a tumor may be located in a place where it is not safe to remove it without causing damage to vital organs or other areas of the body. Sometimes a surgeon is able to remove some, but not all, of the cancerous tumor. This is referred to as debulking surgery. In all cases, a patient also has to be healthy enough to undergo anesthesia and have the surgical procedure.

Oncological surgery may not be the only treatment option for some patients. In many instances the procedures safely remove the affected tissue and the patient recovers fully. When all of the cancerous tissue cannot be removed, surgery can often be utilized to ease some of the symptoms of cancer. This is referred to as palliative surgery.

Each situation requiring surgical oncology is different for every patient. For many people, the surgery is used along with other treatments, such as chemotherapy, radiation, targeted or immune therapies, hormone replacement therapy and others. Each case is different and all patients should seek the guidance of their primary care physician and oncology specialist.

This topic and more will be discussed on the Dale Association’s upcoming LCTV program in the coming week, and in future columns in the Union-Sun & Journal.

Eastern Niagara Healthlines is a special feature by the Eastern Niagara Health System. David Crooks, MD, FACS, is a general and oncological surgeon affiliated with UBMD. He recently joined the medical staff at ENH and is practicing at Great Lakes Surgical Associates, 160 East Ave., Lockport. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Crooks, call 434-6141.