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General Surgery

General surgery is a specialty that focuses on the abdomen and the digestive system in addition to many diseases and conditions involving skin, breasts, soft tissues and hernias.

Types of general surgery

General surgeons conduct a large number of surgical procedures, many of which deal with the abdomen area and digestive organs.

General surgeons work with breast cancer patients to perform biopsies, lumpectomies, mastectomies, and other related procedures, all of which are different types of breast surgery. This area does not include cosmetic surgeries and augmentations.

They also perform surgeries and procedures related to skin cancer, suspicious skin spots, burns, tumors and infections in the skin. They do skin grafts, which may be needed following burns, traumas or the removal of skin due to cancer.

General surgeons handle the removal of the thyroid glands, parathyroids glands and adrenal glands. This process includes partial removal of the glands. They also conduct surgeries needed in the colon or rectum. General surgeons treat colon cancer, rectal cancer, hemorrhoids, gastrointestinal bleeding and other bowel disorders. 

Though vascular surgeons undergo specialized training, general surgeons handle minor vascular surgeries and disorders. They can perform some emergency vascular surgeries in the event a vascular surgeon is unavailable.

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Training for general surgeons

After medical school, prospective general surgeons go through a residency program, working in a hospital for several years. After residency, potential surgeons face their board exams, which they must pass to practice surgery.

Prior to passing the boards, surgeons also can take a residency in another specialty area, such as cosmetics or pediatrics. While this residency still has a focus, it is one of the widest ranging areas of surgery training. Even surgeons with specialties in other areas typically and primarily train for general surgery.

General surgeons also are trained for surgical emergencies, and they are often present on the emergency-room staff of hospitals. Emergency-room procedures requiring a general surgeon may include gallbladder or pancreas removal, organ perforations and bowel obstructions.

Even after they pass the boards, general surgeons undergo continued training to stay current on new procedures and research in the field. Many surgeons also participate in hospital-sponsored research studies.

Trends in general surgery

The introduction of technology into the field has yielded many changes. Trends in this area include minimally invasive surgeries that do not require cutting into the patient. In the past, surgeons had to cut open the patient to see what they were doing. Now, tiny cameras and different imaging techniques help doctors eliminate incisions.

The benefits of minimally invasive surgery include less anesthesia, less trauma to the patient, faster recovery time, less expense, less time in the hospital, less pain, less scarring and a lower risk of complications after the procedure.

Minimally invasive surgery still involves certain risks, which include bleeding, infection, blood clotting, breathing issues and reactions to the anesthesia or medications prescribed after surgery.

Because the advantages of these procedures are so great when compared to open surgeries, many general surgeons are attempting to use minimally invasive techniques more often. These techniques include the use of specially made equipment that surgeons can insert through tubes into the body via small incisions.