What is oncology?
Oncology is a sub-specialty of medicine dedicated to the investigation, diagnosis and treatment of people with cancer or suspected cancer. It includes:
- preventative medicine
- medical oncology (chemotherapy, immunotherapy, hormone therapy and other drugs to treat cancer)
- radiation oncology (radiation therapy to treat cancer)
- surgical oncology (surgery to treat cancer), and
- palliative medicine.
Who is an oncologist?
An oncologist is a doctor with special training in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. Some oncologists specialise in a particular type of cancer treatment.
Part of a multidisciplinary team, the oncologist also supports the patient through collaboration and coordination of other specialists.
Oncologists are not only involved in clinical care, but also contribute to cancer research (including therapeutics, biology, epidemiology and clinical outcomes research), health education, clinical teaching and ethics.
What are the different types of oncologists?
A medical oncologist treats cancer using chemotherapy or other medications, such as hormone therapy and immunotherapy.
A surgical oncologist removes the tumour or cancerous tissue during an operation. They may also perform biopsies (see below).
A radiation oncologist specialises in treating cancer using radiation therapy (radiotherapy).
When to see an oncologist
If a person is diagnosed with cancer, or is suspected to have cancer, a GP may provide a referral to an oncologist. A biopsy (tissue sample) will be taken and examined by a pathologist. If it is found to be cancerous, a series of diagnostic tests and scans may be done to determine the size of the cancer and to find out whether it has spread.
Oncologists work as a team to recommend a course of treatment for individual patients.
Patients can seek a second opinion from other doctors or medical teams at any time. A GP or specialist can refer patients to other specialists, and patients can request their medical history to be sent to the doctor providing the second opinion.
Oncology education: Clinical Oncology for Medical Students
Clinical Oncology for Medical Students is a free ebook on the principles of oncology care, including:
- epidemiology and cancer biology
- diagnosis, including histopathology, cytology and tumour markers
- familial cancers and genetic testing
- cancer treatment and management
- professional issues, such as doctor patient communication and ethics
- common cancer types.
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