Medical oncology is the subspecialty of internal medicine that focuses on treating cancer. There are two other types of clinical oncologists – surgical oncologists and radiation oncologists. In most cases, when a person is diagnosed with cancer, one of these oncologists takes charge of the patient’s overall care through all phases of the disease.
Medical oncologists must first complete seven or more years of medical school and postgraduate training and become board certified in Internal Medicine. Then, for an additional two years, they are broadly trained in all areas of oncology. Some medical oncologists also further specialize in specific types of cancer, such as breast cancer, lung cancer, prostate cancer, leukemia, or lymphoma.
What oncologists do
Oncologists care for patients from the moment of diagnosis through the course of the disease. They explain the diagnosis and meaning of the disease stage, discuss various treatment options, recommend the best course of treatment, deliver optimal care, and improve quality of life — through curative therapy and palliative care with pain and symptom management.
Tell your family history
Be sure to tell an oncologist a complete and accurate family medical history. As many as 15 percent of cancers are caused by genes passed directly from a parent to a child. Family medical information is critically important in managing patient care.
Working as a team
Once diagnosed, cancer is often treated by a team of oncologists, usually at least two of the three types – medical, surgical or radiation oncologists. The team may also include a pathologist, a diagnostic radiologist, and an oncology nurse.
This team approach combines the unique skills of several different disciplines into one consulting group. This is an advantage, since cancer treatment frequently involves a combination of chemotherapy, surgery and radiation.
In new or difficult cases of cancer, a tumor board will be called upon to review the case. Consisting of medical experts from all relevant disciplines, tumor boards consult on the best course of treatment for an individual patient.