Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What is a surgical oncologist?

Surgical oncologists are surgeons who specialize in the treatment of cancer. General surgical oncologists treat cancers of the skin, lymph nodes, soft tissues (muscle, fat, and blood vessels), breast, thyroid and other endocrine organs, intestines (stomach, small bowel, colon, rectum and anus), and the peritoneum (lining of the abdomen).

  1. What training and certification are required to be a surgical oncologist?

To become a surgical oncologist, a surgeon must first be a qualified general surgeon. This requires 4 years of medical school, plus 5 or 6 years of residency training. After that, a 2-year specialized training program (fellowship) in surgical oncology is required. Three Canadian medical schools have recognized surgical oncology fellowships – the University of Toronto, McGill University, and the University of Calgary. These training programs must meet accreditation standards established by the Royal College of Surgeons of Canada and the Society of Surgical Oncology in the United States. In 2010, surgical oncology was recognized as a subspeciality by the Royal College of Surgeons of Canada. Since that year, all graduating fellows must pass a national examination to qualify as a surgical oncologist.

  1. How does surgical oncology work with other cancer specialists?

Effective treatment of many cancers requires a combination of surgery, medications, and/or radiation therapy. Medical oncologists are experts in the use of medications (chemotherapy, immunotherapy, targeted biologic therapies, etc), while radiation oncologists are experts in the use of radiotherapy, to treat cancer. Other experts, including radiologists (who interpret images such as CT scan, MRI, etc), pathologists (who study cancer cells under the microscope), nurses, pharmacists, palliative care teams (who specialize in treating patient symptoms), and many others, are also important members of the cancer care team. Surgical oncologists are experts in the use of surgical techniques to diagnose and treat cancer. Surgery is an essential part of effective treatment for many cancer types but recommendations about surgery – whether it is for a small biopsy or a lengthy complex operation – are best made by surgeons who work in close coordination with other cancer specialists. Surgical oncologists have specialized training and daily experience working in teams to build the best possible treatment plan for each individual patient.

  1. Do surgical oncologists treat only rare types of cancer?

No – any cancer patient can be referred to see a surgical oncologist.

Some cancers occur more frequently and usually have well established treatments. Most patients with these cancers receive excellent surgical care from general surgeons and other specialists. However, some of these patients have complex medical problems or a specific issue related to their surgery that requires more specialized assessment. These patients are referred to see a surgical oncologist.

Many cancers occur less frequently and do not have well established treatment protocols. These “rare” tumors are often referred to a surgical oncologist, who may see many more of them than any other surgeon or general practitioner. Surgical oncologists become experts in “rare” or “orphan” cancers and develop treatment recommendations based on knowledge of how tumors behave, available treatment options, and the newest research findings.

  1. How do surgical oncologists stay up-to-date with new advances?

There are constant improvements in treatments and surgical oncologists remain up to date on these treatments through participation in research, networks of experts, and regular conferences to review scientific evidence. Surgical oncologists are leaders in the development and implementation of new effective cancer treatments.

  1. Do all surgical oncologists treat the same cancers?

Most surgical oncologists treat a broad range of cancers, applying their knowledge of tumor biology and the best available treatment options. Some surgical oncologists develop a particular focus within their practice, treating more patients with a particular type of cancer. In order to focus on one area, these surgical oncologists forgo treating some other types of cancer.

At West Coast Surgical Oncology, we work as a team and will always ensure that you are seen by a surgical oncologist with expertise specific to your needs.

  1. Where will my colorectal cancer operation take place?

Our surgeons perform all colorectal cancer operations at Vancouver General Hospital. Some diagnostic tests and procedures are performed at other healthcare institutions. Your surgeon will advise you where your care will take place.

  1. Will I need a stoma or colostomy?

Your surgeon will advise you whether a stoma or colostomy may be needed in your case. Sometimes the final decision about a stoma or colostomy cannot be made until the time of the operation. Your surgeon may arrange for you to meet with a specialized stoma nurse prior to your surgery to help you prepare for this possibility.

  1. Will my surgery be performed laparoscopically?

Some colorectal cancer operations can be performed laparoscopically (also known as key-hole surgery, or minimally invasive surgery) and our surgeons have expertise with these techniques. This type of surgery is best for small cancers that have not grown through the bowel wall. Your surgeon will advise you if your operation can be safely performed with laparoscopic techniques.

  1. Will I need to have a bowel preparation or cleansing before my operation?

It is safe to perform many types of colorectal cancer operations without bowel preparation or cleansing. However, in some cases it is necessary. Your surgeon will advise you whether you need a bowel preparation or cleansing.

  1. How long will I be in hospital after surgery?

The length of time you will need to stay in hospital depends on what kind of surgery you have. If you have a small cancer and the surgery is performed laparoscopically, the stay in hospital may be as short as 4-5 days. If your surgery is more complex, the hospital stay will be longer.

  1. When will I see my surgeon after surgery?

Your surgeon will visit with you while you are in hospital. After you are discharged, your surgeon will meet with you in the clinic for one or more follow-up visits.

  1. How long does it take to get my pathology report?

The cancer and surrounding tissues removed at surgery will be examined under the microscope by a pathologist. The report will include important details about the size and growth pattern of the cancer that has been removed. This information is used to guide other treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation. Your pathology report is usually available within 14 days after your surgery. Your surgeon will discuss this report with you when it is available.