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Experts report that there were 1,529,560 new cases of cancer (not including nonmelanoma skin cancers) diagnosed in 2010. In that same year, 569,490 people died of some form of cancer.
*Sources: U.S. National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute

Understanding Surgical Oncology

Surgical oncology – or cancer surgery – remains the primary treatment for most cancers with a focus on the removal or partial removal of tumors, lymph nodes and cancerous cells. Surgery is often combined with other treatments, such as chemotherapy or radiation. Surgical oncology is performed to accomplish one or more goals. These might include:

  • Prevention: If your WellStar physician has reasons to believe that you have a high percentage chance of developing cancer in certain organs or tissues, he or she might recommend the removal of them before cancer can develop.
  • Diagnosis: Your surgeon might use surgery to remove all or part of a tumor so that it may be studied under a microscope to determine whether it is malignant (cancerous) or benign (noncancerous).
  • Staging: Surgery may also be used to determine the “stage” or how advanced your cancer has become. It can help determine whether the cancer has grown or has moved to other parts of your body.
  • Primary treatment. For many tumors, surgery stands as the best and most effective method of treatment, particularly if the tumor has not spread.
  • Debulking: In some cases, the surgeon cannot remove all of tumor because of its proximity to a vital organ. The surgeon might remove a significant portion of the tumor, a procedure known as debulking, so that radiation treatments or chemotherapy can be more effective.
  • Relieving symptoms or side effects: Sometimes, surgery is designed to ease side effects or to improve quality of life, such as when a tumor pressing on a nerve is removed.

Any surgery comes with risks. Surgical oncology carries a risk of pain, infection, poor bowel and bladder function, bleeding and blood clots. For cancer surgery specifically, the risks may also include loss of organ function, particularly if the surgeon needs to remove all or part of the organ itself.


Generally, the goal of surgical oncology is to cure the cancer through the full removal of it from your body, but surgery might involve partial removal for examination purposes or to improve the success of other treatments, such as radiation or chemotherapy.

Surgery for cancer depends on the type of cancer, the distance it has spread and the overall condition of the patient. If the cancer has spread considerably from its original source or if it presses against a vital organ, surgery might not be an option.

For all surgeries, you can expect extensive preparations that may involve a variety of tests, such as blood tests, urine tests and various imaging. For the surgery itself, you will likely go under general anesthesia. After the surgery, you will be given an extensive recovery plan that may involve remaining in the hospital for a few days, as well as specific directions about medications, taking care of wounds, diet and post-surgery activity and exercise.