What is an oncologist?

March 2, 2017

Cancer is a complex disease. Which is why people who have it may see more than one cancer doctor, each with a specific area of expertise.iStock-517051420.jpg

These doctors are called oncologists. They help people with cancer understand the disease and their treatment options. They also lead the patient's health care team in delivering high-quality, individualized cancer therapy.

Oncologists generally fall into one of three categories:

Surgical oncologists. They specialize in removing cancerous tissues and performing biopsies when cancer is suspected.

Radiological oncologists. They are in charge of any radiation therapy that may be needed.

Medical oncologists. They are experts in chemotherapy and oversee any hormonal or biological therapies. A medical oncologist may also coordinate a patient's overall cancer care.

Since effective cancer treatment may require a combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, many people with cancer require services from more than one oncologist.

In addition, some doctors are further trained to specialize in treating certain types of cancer. For instance:

  • Gynecological oncologists treat women with cancers of the reproductive system, including cervical and uterine cancers.
  • Pediatric oncologists treat children and teens with cancer.
  • Hematologist oncologists specialize in treating people with leukemia or other blood-based cancers.

Of course, oncologists aren't the only ones who help people with cancer. Nurses, social workers, physical therapists, radiation technicians, laboratory specialists and many others may all be involved with patients during and after cancer treatment.

Sources: American Academy of Pediatrics; American Society for Radiation Oncology; American Society of Clinical Oncology; National Cancer Institute

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