What is Plastic Surgery?
When you hear the words “plastic surgeon,” you might call to mind actresses with outlandish body proportions or aging stars with surreal facial features. Plastic surgery to alter appearance is referred to as “aesthetic” or “cosmetic” surgery. As is the case with celebrities, cosmetic surgery is often performed to change the appearance of a feature that a patient has always disliked, or to prevent changes from happening due to aging. However, cosmetic surgery can also restore appearance after an injury or illness -- when a medical condition leaves a physical mark that makes a patient look different, it can be very upsetting. Cosmetic plastic surgery gives patients more control over how they look.
But plastic surgery is about much more than changing someone's appearance. Plastic surgery is also about changing the form and function of the body, and often that means restoring what has been lost to injury or illness. A body part can lose its ability to function (meaning, for example, to move, grip, protect underlying tissues, or feel sensation) to many causes. Some common ones are burns, infections, injuries (e.g. from car accidents), illnesses (such as cancer), problems present from birth (such as cleft palate), or even scar tissue from previous surgeries. When plastic surgery is used to repair a damaged part, it is called “reconstructive surgery.” Reconstructive procedures restore the abilities of the patient so that they can use their body in as normal and healthy a way as possible.
Plastic surgeons are experts at safely moving tissue from one part of the body to another, using microsurgery techniques to reconnect the tiny blood vessels and nerves. They use these skills not only to improve appearance (cosmetic surgery), but also to repair damaged body parts (reconstructive surgery).
What is Oncology?
An oncologist is a physician who is concerned with the treatment of tumors and cancers. Cancer is when cells in the human body grow in an abnormal or out-of-control way. The goal of oncology is to cure a patient’s cancer, or, if the cancer is incurable, to control the cancer and reduce the symptoms for as long as possible.
Oncologists have several roles in their interaction with patients. They diagnose cancer and determine what stage the cancer is in, or to what extent the cancer has grown. They explain the diagnosis and stage to the patient, and they recommend treatment and deliver care. During treatment, oncologists are responsible for maintaining quality of life for their patients by reducing pain and side effects from medications.
There are three main types of oncologists:
Medical Oncologists specialize in the use of medications, especially chemotherapy, to kill cancer cells. In some areas, the term “medical oncologist” refers to the oncologist who is overall in charge of making decisions about a patient’s treatment.
Surgical Oncologists specialize in surgical treatments for cancer, such as biopsies (where small tissue samples are taken and examined), or surgical removal of tumors and surrounding tissue.
Radiation Oncologists specialize in the use of radiation (a kind of high powered x-ray) to kill cancer.
The American Society of Clinical Oncology also recognizes the subspecialties of Gynecological Oncology, which focuses on cancers of the female reproductive tract, and Pediatric Oncology, which deals with cancers that are most common in childhood.
In the United States, nearly one-half of all men and one-third of all women will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetimes. It is an unfortunately common disease that can sometimes be life-threatening. Oncologists provide care to millions of people facing that diagnosis every year.
What is Surgical Oncology?
Surgical oncology is the use of surgery to diagnose or treat cancer, or to manage the symptoms of cancer. The Egyptians pioneered the treatment of cancer using surgery, removing breast tumors as early as the seventh century. These days, surgical oncology is much more complex and effective. Most cancer treatments involve surgery, and in some cases it is the only treatment needed.
Surgical oncologists work together with medical oncologists and radiation oncologists to provide care for cancer patients. Along with medical oncologists, surgical oncologists tend to be the primary providers of cancer treatment. Almost every cancer patient will have a medical or surgical oncologist who is in charge of managing their treatment and making decisions about their care.
The specialized knowledge of a surgical oncologist is less about surgical techniques (which may be very similar to techniques used by a general surgeon) and more about an understanding of cancer itself. Surgical oncologists have an advanced knowledge of how cancer presents and changes, and they know the best way to use surgery to treat cancer.
Surgical oncology is a rapidly advancing specialty, and many new techniques and procedures have been developed in recent years, including minimally invasive surgery and robotic surgery. A surgical oncologist is able to safely wield these complicated techniques to remove tumors from the body.
What is General Obstetrics & Gynecology?
General obstetrician/gynecologists, or general OB/GYNs, are providers of routine care for women’s reproductive health. They offer regular checkups and preventative care to detect illnesses early and keep women healthy. A general OB/GYN cares for a variety of health issues, including:
Sexually transmitted diseases
Annual breast exams
After the age of 18, it is important to see a general OB/GYN regularly for preventative care as well as any needed pregnancy care. When necessary, general OB/GYNs may refer their patients to related specialists such as a Maternal-Fetal Medicine specialist or Reproductive Endocrinologist. However, women without complicated health issues may continue to see their general OB/GYN for care throughout their reproductive life.
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