Oncology is the study of cancer. An oncologist is a doctor who treats cancer and provides medical care to a person diagnosed with cancer. An oncologist may also be called a cancer specialist.
the field of oncology has 3 main treatment-based areas: medical oncology, radiation oncology, and surgical oncology.
medical oncologists treat cancer with drugs, including chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and targeted therapy.
Radiation oncologists treat cancer with radiation therapy, which is the use of high-energy x-rays or other particles to kill cancer cells.
surgical oncologists treat cancer with surgery, which includes removing the tumor and nearby tissue during an operation. This type of surgeon may also perform certain types of biopsies to help diagnose cancer.
There are also medical terms for oncologists who specialize in the care of specific groups of patients or groups of cancers. here are definitions of some common terms.
Geriatric oncologists work with people with cancer who are age 65 and older. older adults may have additional challenges. geriatric oncologists specialize in providing the best care for older adults.
gynecologic oncologists treat cancers in reproductive organs such as the cervix, fallopian tubes, ovaries, uterus, vagina, and vulva.
Hematologist-oncologists treat cancers of the blood, such as leukemia, lymphoma, and myeloma.
neuroncologists treat cancers of the brain, spine, and nervous system.
Pediatric oncologists treat cancer in children and adolescents. some types of cancer occur more often in these younger age groups. When these cancers occasionally occur in adults, those adult patients may choose to work with a pediatric oncologist.
thoracic oncologists treat cancers within the chest area, including the lungs and esophagus.
urologic oncologists treat cancers of the genitourinary system, such as those of the bladder, kidneys, penis, prostate, and testicles.
what is the role of the oncologist?
An oncologist manages a patient’s care during the course of the disease. this starts with the diagnosis. their role includes:
recommend tests to determine if a person has cancer
explain a cancer diagnosis, including the type and stage of cancer
discuss all treatment options and your choice of treatment
providing quality, compassionate care
helping you manage the symptoms and side effects of cancer and its treatment
A person’s cancer treatment plan may include more than one type of treatment, such as surgery, cancer drugs, or radiation therapy. that means different types of oncologists and other health care providers work together to create an overall treatment plan for the patient. this is called a multidisciplinary team. Cancer care teams often include a variety of other health professionals, including pathologists, radiologists, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, oncology nurses, social workers, pharmacists, and more. Learn about these and other possible members of a multidisciplinary team in another article on this website. Physicians from other areas of medicine may also be part of this team. For example, a dermatologist, who specializes in skin problems, can help treat skin cancer.
what is a tumor board?
sometimes a person’s cancer diagnosis is complex. in this case, the patient’s oncologist may ask a tumor board to review the case. In some cancer centers, a tumor board reviews all cancer cases.
A tumor board is a group of medical experts from all areas of cancer care who work together to decide on the best treatment plan. the tumor board may include medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, and surgical oncologists. other specialists can also be part of the board. Tumor board members can provide a variety of perspectives that can help you get the best care possible.
Learn more about tumor plaques and when they are used in cancer treatment.
questions to ask about your health care team
How many oncologists will be part of my cancer treatment team?
If there is more than one doctor on my team, which doctor will direct my overall care?
How will each type of recommended cancer treatment help me?
will my case be reviewed by a tumor board? when?
When should I make a decision about planning my treatment?
How often will I need to see each doctor during my treatment period? after treatment?
Are my doctors all in the same hospital/facility or in different locations?
What is my health insurance coverage for different medical services? If I am worried about the costs of cancer care, who can help me?
What other types of health care providers will be part of my cancer care team?
If I experience a new side effect or a change in how I feel, who should I tell?
Is there a person I should contact if I have any questions? How can I get in touch with the different professionals in my team?
What is the best way to contact my cancer care team in an emergency?
Who can help me cope with the stress and emotions of cancer?
choosing a doctor for your cancer care
the cancer care team
managing your care