Cancer Council Australia

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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. Part of a multidisciplinary team, they also give support to 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. Some oncologists specialise in a particular type of cancer treatment.

What are the different types of oncologists?

Medical oncologist

A medical oncologist treats cancer using chemotherapy or other medications, such as hormone therapy and immunotherapy.

Surgical oncologist

A surgical oncologist removes the tumour or cancerous tissue during an operation. They may also perform biopsies (see below).

Radiation oncologist

A radiation oncologist specialises in treating cancer using radiotherapy.

When to see an oncologist

If you have been diagnosed with cancer, or are suspected to have cancer, your GP may refer you to an oncologist. A biopsy (tissue sample) will be taken and examined by a pathologist. If it is found to be cancerous, you may have a series of diagnostic tests and scans 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.

As a patient, you can seek a second opinion from other doctors or medical teams at any time. Your GP or specialist can refer you to other specialists, and you can ask for your medical history to be sent to the doctor providing the second opinion.


Medical Oncology Group of Australia

National Cancer Institute

American Cancer Society

This page was last updated on: Wednesday, August 30, 2017

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