Oncology is the study of cancer. An oncologist is a doctor who treats cancer and provides medical care for a person diagnosed with cancer.
The field of oncology has three major areas: medical, surgical, and radiation.
- A medical oncologist treats cancer using chemotherapy or other medications, such as targeted therapy or immunotherapy.
- A surgical oncologist removes the tumor and nearby tissue during surgery. He or she also performs certain types of biopsies to help diagnose cancer.
- A radiation oncologist treats cancer using radiation therapy.
Other types of oncologists include:
- A gynecologic oncologist treats gynecologic cancers, such as uterine, ovarian, and cervical cancers.
- A pediatric oncologist treats cancer in children. Some types of cancer occur most often in children and teenagers. This includes certain brain tumors, leukemia, osteosarcoma, and Ewing’s sarcoma. Types of cancer more common in children sometimes also occur in adults. In these situations, an adult may decide to work with a pediatric oncologist.
- A hematologist-oncologist diagnoses and treats blood cancers, such as leukemia, lymphoma, and myeloma.
The role of the oncologist
An oncologist manages a patient’s care throughout the course of the disease. This starts with the diagnosis. His or her role includes:
- Explaining the cancer diagnosis and stage
- Talking about all treatment options and his or her preferred choice
- Delivering quality and compassionate care
- Helping a patient manage the symptoms and side effects of cancer and cancer treatment.
Different types of doctors often work together to create a patient’s overall treatment plan that combines different types of treatments. For instance, a patient may need treatment with a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. This is called a multidisciplinary team.
Cancer care teams also include a variety of other health care professionals:
- A pathologist reads laboratory tests. This includes checking cells, tissues, and organs to diagnose disease
- A diagnostic radiologist conducts imaging tests to diagnose disease. This includes x-rays or ultrasound tests.
- An oncology nurse
- An oncology social worker
The team may also involve doctors from other areas of medicine. For instance, a dermatologist who specializes in skin problems may also help treat skin cancer.
Sometimes a person’s cancer diagnosis is complex. In this case, the patient’s oncologist may ask a tumor board to review the case. This involves medical experts from all areas of cancer care who come together to decide on the best treatment plan.