What is the difference between a surgical oncologist and a general surgeon?

Surgical oncologists at Massachusetts General Hospital are board-certified in general surgery and have undergone additional specialty training in cancer surgery. Each surgeon in the Division of Surgical Oncology focuses his or her clinical practice on the management of only one or two types of cancer, ensuring patients receive a high degree of specialization and expertise.

Do I need to see a surgical oncologist (specialist in cancer surgery) rather than a generalist?

It is not possible to accurately predict which patients will benefit by having their care provided by a specialist rather than a generalist. Accordingly, the Division of Surgical Oncology at Massachusetts General Hospital makes its services available to all cancer patients. At times, a case that appears to be straightforward may actually be more complicated or possibly become so. Surgical oncologists are specialized, having focused their practices on one or two specific cancers. Because of specialization, surgical oncologists may have access to newer approaches and/or clinical trials of which non-specialists may not be aware.

If I have already seen a surgeon, do I need a second opinion?

It is very common for patients to seek a second opinion for their diagnoses. Physicians are aware that this happens frequently and are not offended when told by their patients that they would like to see another doctor. Copies of records and films are easily duplicated by the hospital or doctor’s office for the second opinion. After consultation with a surgical oncologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, you may choose to return to your first surgeon for your operation or you may decide to transfer your care to Mass General. The decision is entirely up to you.

Benefits of obtaining a second opinion may include:

  • After providing an opinion, your Mass General surgical oncologist will be pleased to help you obtain another opinion, if requested
  • Hearing an alternate opinion
  • Increasing your confidence in the recommended treatment plan
  • Learning about opportunities for clinical trials
What is a multidisciplinary clinic?

Multidisciplinary clinic sessions at the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center comprise clinicians from different disciplines, including surgical oncology, medical oncology, radiation oncology, radiology, pathology, nursing and social services. This team evaluates patients, their records and any pathology slides or X-rays to formulate a diagnosis and treatment plan. Multidisciplinary team evaluation provides patients with the benefit of receiving input from multiple physicians during a single clinic appointment. This results in a comprehensive evaluation and a plan tailored specifically to the patient. Additionally, weekly conferences are held among clinicians to discuss complex cases. Patients benefit from these discussions as clinicians share their expertise and help identify potential treatment plans.

The Division of Surgical Oncology is physically located within the Mass General Cancer Center. This location facilitates on-the-spot, multidisciplinary treatment planning with other Cancer Center oncologists, even when patients are not scheduled for a multidisciplinary clinic visit.

Is the Mass General Cancer Center a Comprehensive Cancer Center designated by the National Cancer Institute?

Yes. The Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center is one of the seven Harvard University institutions that jointly comprise the Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center, which was designated a Comprehensive Cancer Center by the National Cancer Institute in 1999. A Comprehensive Cancer Center combines the disciplines of laboratory science, clinical science and basic research to facilitate the development of new and improved techniques to prevent and treat cancer.