Santa Monica, Calif. — Q. What is a surgical oncologist?
A. By Byron Wright, M.D., surgical oncology fellow at the John Wayne Cancer Institute at Saint John’s Health Center
A surgical oncologist is a surgeon who specializes in treating cancer. This specialist physician must first train in general surgery (a five-year residency program) and then complete an additional two-to-four year fellowship in surgical oncology.
Despite great advances in cancer research and treatment, many cancer patients still require surgery as their best chance for cure, often in conjunction with systemic medical therapies. Surgical oncology fellowships educate physicians in state-of-the-art surgery for all types of malignancies — common and rare. However a surgical oncologist’s training is not limited to surgery, but also includes experience in the multidisciplinary approach to prevention, diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation of cancer patients, as well as cancer research. Surgical oncologists often take the lead in coordinating a cancer patient’s care.
The John Wayne Cancer Institute at Saint John’s Health Center is one of only 18 surgical oncology training programs in the U.S. approved by the Society of Surgical Oncology. It is one of the most comprehensive centers for advanced training in surgical oncology, and its director, Donald L. Morton, M.D., is considered one of the founders and major advocates of academic surgical oncology. At JWCI, in addition to surgical, medical and radiation oncology training, fellows complete a course of research – either in basic science laboratory research and/or clinical and translational research. During this training, fellows are exposed to national clinical trials — research studies investigating new treatment methods – which will assist them in considering and using these treatment options when managing malignant disease in their patients. They’re also able to participate in groundbreaking research with JWCI’s physicians, many of them known nationally for their expertise in their respective fields.
All of this additional training adds up to better, more advanced care for patients. We’ve seen progress with cancer research, and although there are still some cancers that have a relatively grim prognosis, many cancers have had tremendous improvements in outcomes. Generally, today if you are diagnosed with cancer, it’s not a death sentence. The vast majority of patients can be treated successfully, and many can be cured to go on and enjoy long periods of cancer free health.
Byron Wright, M.D., is a surgical oncology fellow at the John Wayne Cancer Institute at Saint John’s Health Center. For more information about Dr. Wright and other Saint John’s services, please call (310) 829-8990 or visit the website at www.stjohns.org. For a physician referral or a second opinion, please call 1-888-ASK-SJHC.
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