What are oncologists?
An oncologist is a physician who specializes in diagnosing and treating people, who have cancer. If you have cancer, an oncologist will design a treatment plan based on detailed pathology reports that indicate what type of cancer you have, how much it has developed, how quickly it is likely to spread, and which parts of your body are involved.
Since most cancers are treated with a combination of therapies, you may see several different types of oncologists during the course of your treatment. Oncologists specialize in managing drug treatments for people with early and advanced cancers that affect organs, muscles, bones, and connective tissue. However, people with some early-stage cancers can be treated only with surgery or radiation therapy and may not need the care of an oncologist.
Oncologist-administered treatments include:
- Biological therapy
- Targeted drug therapy
- Hormonal therapy
- Experimental therapies
- Other systemic treatments
Oncologists have extensive experience diagnosing and treating all types of cancer, including:
- Brain tumors
- Head and neck cancers
- Breast cancer
- Lung cancer
- Liver cancer
- Biliary cancers
- Pancreatic cancer
- kidney cancer
- Colon cancer
- Rectal cancer
- Ovarian cancer
- Other gynecologic cancers
- prostate cancer
- Non-melanoma skin cancer
- Thyroid cancer
- Neuroendocrine tumors
What kinds of oncologists could you see?
Medical oncologists treat cancer with chemotherapy, hormonal therapies, biologic therapies, and other targeted treatments. People often think of medical oncologists as their cancer GP.
Medical oncologists help their patients manage side effects and help manage and maintain well-being. Often times, patients follow up with their medical oncologists after treatment is complete.
Radiation oncologists use high-energy photon beams to attack and destroy cancer cells. About half of all cancer patients will receive radiation treatments as part of their cancer care.
Some cancers respond better to tiny “seeds” of irradiated material implanted in the affected area, while others respond better to intense beams of radiation that are so highly targeted that they are called “radiosurgery.”
A surgical oncologist may be one of the first doctors you see if your primary care doctor suspects you have cancer. Surgical oncologists often perform biopsies, removing a small section of tissue so that it can be examined for cancer cells.
If cancer cells are present, you may see the surgical oncologist again, this time to have the tumor and surrounding tissues removed. The surgeon will help you prepare for and also improve any surgical procedures you have during cancer treatment.
Pediatric oncologists diagnose and the necessity for children who have cancer. Approximately 175,000 children under the age of 15 are diagnosed with cancer each year around the world. In the United States, about 80 per cent of children who are diagnosed with cancer and receive treatment will survive.
Some pediatric oncologists specialize in certain types of cancer, and some focus on doing research on childhood cancers. Educating families whose children are undergoing cancer treatment is an important part of the job of most pediatric oncologists.
Gynecologic oncologists specialize in treating cancers that affect women, such as cancers of the ovary, cervix, uterus, vagina, and vulva, but they also often treat complicated gynecologic conditions that are not cancerous, such as endometriosis and fibroids.
Like other cancer specialists, gynecologic oncologists have several years of training that specifically focuses on cancers that affect women.
Physicians who specialize in treating blood cancers like leukemia and lymphoma are called hematologists because they can also treat blood disorders other than cancer, such as sickle cell anemia and hemophilia.
What kinds of tests do oncologists do?
Your oncologist can perform a physical exam to find abnormalities that may indicate cancer. They may also perform blood and urine tests or imaging scans such as MRIs, ultrasounds, and CT scans. They may do one or more biopsies to look for cancer cells in the tissues.
What to expect after your first oncology appointment?
Your first oncology appointment can last two to three hours. That’s because your oncologist will need to spend some time gathering information about your health. You should also expect:
- Emotion, or a curious lack of it: Anxiety, anger, and sadness are common reactions when you learn that you have cancer. You may also feel a numb feeling of shock at first.
- A physical exam: Even if your primary care doctor has performed a physical exam, your oncologist will likely perform one as well.
- Some additional tests: You may have additional blood tests or imaging tests.
- Meetings with other members of the cancer care team: You can meet with other healthcare professionals or people who can help you understand the insurance process and the costs involved in treatment.
- An early forecast: It is not unusual for an oncologist to be able to give you a basic prediction of how long it will take for you to recover.
Role of the oncologist
The role of an oncologist focuses on the comprehensive treatment of cancer. From the diagnosis, the oncologist continues with her following responsibilities:
- Explain to the patient about the diagnosed cancer, including the stage.
- Inform about available treatment options
- Offer quality and compassionate care, keeping the patient at ease.
- Help the patient manage cancer symptoms and side effects in the best way.
- Maintenance of follow-ups even after treatment.
Types of oncologists
Depending on the nature, stage, and location of cancer, there are different oncologists who offer specialized services for cancer treatment. The field of oncology has three main divisions: medical, surgical, and radiology. There are also several subspecialties.
A medical oncologist is a doctor who treats cancer with chemotherapy and other drugs, such as targeted therapy or immunotherapy. He is the primary health care provider for a cancer patient who leads the expansion of the patient’s treatment. Work in conjunction with the other medical departments for best results. A medical oncologist is also the responsible chief who continues with the follow-ups and reviews of the patients, post-treatment.
A surgical oncologist is a surgeon who concentrates on the surgical removal of cancerous tumors. They are basically general surgeons doing additional training in oncology and related surgical procedures. They also specialize in performing certain types of biopsies to help diagnose cancer.
Radiation oncologists are physicians who luxury cancer with radiation therapy. Radiation therapy customs high-energy x-rays to kill cancer cells. At times when cancer cells cannot be completely destroyed, oncologists use radiation to shrink the tumor or slow tumor growth without affecting neighbouring tissues. This is called palliative therapy. The main goal of therapy is to improve the patient’s quality of life by controlling tumor growth and related symptoms.
Radiation oncologists also sometimes perform brachytherapy to treat cancer patients. In this therapy, radioactive bases are entrenched directly into or next to the tumor. Depending on the type of cancer, radioactive sources of radiation can be left in place permanently or removed at the end of each treatment session.