Treating Cancer: the Specialization of Oncology

‘Oncology’ is the medical specialty that deals with diagnosing and treating cancer. The doctor practicing in this field is called an ‘oncologist’ and these terms derive from the Greek word for ‘tumor’. A patient would be referred to an oncologist if his primary care physician suspects that a tumor is present.


There are numerous types of this disease and each type is a subcategory of the oncology specialization. Additionally, there are three types of oncologists: medical, surgical and radiation. The medical oncologist is the primary care provider for patients.

After diagnosis, cancer is usually treated with some combination of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. The primary responsibility of the medical oncologist is to determine treatment based on the tumor, its location in the patient’s body, and its stage and grade. She also will determine, if chemotherapy is called for, which drugs will be used, in what amounts, and for how long. Other factors such as the patient’s age, constitution and health must be factored in, as these procedures can and will take their own toll. Managing the side effects of treating the tumor is an important part of the oncologist’s job.

If surgery is called for, the medical oncologist might perform the surgery himself or refer the patient to the surgical oncologist. Similarly, the patient is seen by a radiation oncologist for any of various types of therapy that may be administered alone or in conjunction with chemotherapy.

In each case, another responsibility of the medical oncologist is to educate and support her patient. Cancer is a devastating disease, in part due to the fact that a patient can never be said to be completely cured. There is always the chance of a recurrence or the onset of some other type of tumor and a critical aspect of ongoing care is continuing check-ups and support for the patient.

Great strides have been made in diagnosing and treating this dread disease, and there are many possible courses of treatment to be considered. It is imperative that an oncologist keep up with current research and advances in diagnosis and treatment to ensure that her patients get the best and most effective care possible.

The practice of oncology requires many abilities: physical stamina and manual dexterity; compassion aligned with clear-headed logic and judgment; and exceptional communication and research skills. The training is long, arduous and expensive, but the possibility of saving a life is a reward almost beyond reckoning.