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Surgical oncology 

Surgery is the most common way to treat cancer and is often the first step in diagnosis and treatment for a patient. Certain types of cancer may require surgery only, while others may require a patient to receive chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy as well.

Surgeons work closely with other members of the care team to review surgical techniques and treatments. This ensures that all patients in our region receive the best and most advanced treatments available.

Receiving cancer surgery
Your family doctor will refer you to a surgeon specializing in your particular cancer. You may also see a surgeon through a diagnostic assessment program. During that consultation, you and the surgeon will determine if and when surgery is required.

If required, surgery takes place in a hospital. The length of stay in hospital after surgery varies depending on the type of surgery you require.

Cancer surgey wait time
The length of time you may wait for surgery will depend upon the type of cancer you have. Hospitals within our region (Waterloo-Wellington) closely monitor the time that a patient waits. Please click here to view current surgery wait times.

As part of the Ontario plan to reduce wait times for cancer surgery, the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care has funded several hospitals in our region to do more surgery for breast, bowel, lung, esophagus, liver, stomach and prostate cancers.

Advances in cancer surgery

Sentinel lymph node biopsy for breast cancer
Breast cancer spreads through the lymphatic system, which is why when a woman has surgery for her breast cancer the surgeon usually removes approximately 15 lymph nodes (or glands) from under the arm on the same side. This is important to determine whether the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes. A complication of removing these nodes or glands is called lymphedema (swelling of the arm).

Surgeons can now identify the specific lymph nodes (usually one to four nodes) that give them the information they need. This is called sentinel lymph node biopsy. It causes fewer problems after surgery for the patient and is more accurate in determining the stage of the breast cancer.

Total mesorectal excision for rectal cancer
This is a new surgical technique for the removal of rectal cancers that is safer in terms of avoiding damage to nerves in the pelvis and reduces the chance of the cancer recurring.

Surgical centres of excellence in Waterloo-Wellington
Cancer Care Ontario has designated Grand River Hospital as the regional centre of excellence for HPB (hepatic pancreatic and biliary) surgery and St. Mary’s General Hospital as the regional centre of excellence for thoracic surgery within the Waterloo Wellington Regional Cancer Program. These designations ensure high quality patient care for thoracic and HPB surgical patients in Waterloo-Wellington.

Multidisciplinary cancer conferences (MCCs)
MCCs are regularly scheduled meetings where healthcare providers discuss the diagnosis and treatment of individual cancer patients. Please click here for more information on multidisciplinary cancer conferences.

What questions should I ask my health care team?
Since cancer surgery is very specific to each person, you may want to ask your care team at the cancer centre the following questions about surgical oncology.
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