An oncologist is a doctor who studies, diagnoses and treats cancer. Some oncologists also participate in research and clinical trials to help find better ways to prevent, treat and cure cancer.
Oncologists also have a care team that assists with various patient needs. Here is a basic introduction to this vital medical field.
Types of Oncologists and Their Team
There are three primary types of oncologists within the field:
- Medical oncologist: This is an oncologist who uses chemotherapy or other targeted therapy and medications to help fight cancer.
- Surgical oncologist: Surgical oncologists perform surgery to remove tumors and other damaged tissue. They can also perform biopsies.
- Radiation oncologist: An oncologist who uses radiation therapy to treat cancer.
Other types of oncologists include:
- Pediatric oncologist: This is an oncologist who specifically treats children, an important role since certain kinds of tumors and cancers are more common in children. If an adult is diagnosed with one of these cancers, they may choose to see a pediatric oncologist due to their expertise with these specific types of cancer.
- Gynecologic oncologist: This is a specialty treating only gynecologic cancers, including cervical cancer and uterine cancer.
- Hematologist-oncologist: This is a doctor who diagnoses and treats blood cancers like leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma.
An oncologist’s care team includes:
- Oncology nurse: Oncology nurses provide a variety of services including physical exams, chemotherapy administration, patient education and research.
- Oncology nurse practitioner (NP): NPs are under the oncologist’s supervision and meet with patients independently while coordinating with the oncology team.
- Patient care coordinators: Patient care coordinators act as a resource for support and guidance through the cancer treatment process.
- Palliative care doctors and nurses: This is a team that works with the patient to limit or eliminate uncomfortable symptoms of cancer.
- Physician assistant (PA): PAs provide a wide range of services including physical exams, lab tests, prescriptions and others.
- Oncology social worker: Social workers trained in this field can help patients with coping and counseling during treatment.
- Pathologist: A doctor who specializes in diagnosis.
- Registered dietitian (RD): RDs can provide dietary recommendations for cancer patients.
- Diagnostic radiologist: A doctor who uses imaging tests to help diagnosis.
- Rehabilitation therapist: These can range from physical and speech therapists to occupational and recreational therapists, all of whom help with reintegration into normal life and independence.
Roles of an Oncologist
Main roles of an oncologist include:
- Diagnosing cancer and explaining the diagnosis to patients and their family
- Discussing all possible treatment options and recommendations with the patient
- Providing care that’s both effective and compassionate
- Helping with management of pain
Tools and Tests
Your oncology team may use a combination of several tests to help with a cancer diagnosis. They include:
- Medical history: Symptoms and personal health history is the most important diagnostic tool for cancer diagnosis and treatment
- Biopsy: Removal of tumor tissue to be tested
- Endoscopy: A non-surgical procedure to examine the digestive tract
- CT scan
- MRI scan
- • Other radiological imaging techniques
- Blood tests: To help locate biological or tumor markers
An important part of the role of oncologists, particularly palliative care doctors and nurses, is the comfort of terminally ill patients. This is care aimed at reducing pain and other uncomfortable symptoms.
Many oncologists conduct or participate in research of cancer. Research can include anything from the basic biology of cancer cells to differing forms of treatment. As research improves, treatment can advance, making oncology a continually morphing field. Large clinical studies carried out by oncologists have made major progress in cancer research and treatment.
For questions about treatment recommendations or the right doctor for you to see if you or a loved one is diagnosed with cancer, speak to your healthcare provider.
*Note: No two cancer cases are alike. None of the statements herein are designed to suggest a “one size fits all” approach, and each case will be evaluated individually.
Revere Health Cancer Care offers complete oncology services for patients diagnosed with cancer who may or may not require chemotherapy or radiation treatments.
“The Oncology Team.” Cancer.net. http://www.cancer.net/navigating-cancer-care/cancer-basics/cancer-care-team/oncology-team
“What is Oncology?” News-Medical.net. http://www.news-medical.net/health/What-is-Oncology.aspx