What is Gastroenterology?
A gastroenterologist is a doctor that specializes in the normal function and diseases of the digestive tract, which includes the stomach, intestines, spleen, pancreas, and liver. As a specialty, gastroenterology is the study of how food moves through the body, how nutrients are absorbed by the body, and how waste is removed by the body. A few of the conditions that a gastroenterologist might treat are:
ulcerative colitis (a condition where inflammation and sores affect the lower intestine)
gallbladder disease (where bile stored in the gallbladder thickens and causes inflammation or gallstones)
gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD (stomach acid flows back into the throat and causes a burning sensation and tissue damage)
One unique trait that really sets gastroenterologists apart is their training and skill with endoscopy, a procedure where tiny flexible tubes are inserted into the body. These tubes are equipped with lights and cameras to provide the practitioner with a close, inside look at what is going on inside the patient’s body. Tools can even be inserted through the tubes to perform certain procedures, such as removing polyps or cancers, stretching open passageways that have narrowed, or applying lasers to stop bleeding.
Gastroenterologists do not perform surgery, but they do perform endoscopic procedures, as well as biopsies to determine if cancer is affecting the digestive tract. Although other physicians can use endoscopes, gastroenterologists devote a significant portion of their medical training and practice to endoscopy. They learn how and when to use endoscopy, the safest and most efficient methods to use, and how to interpret what they see through the endoscope.
What is Oncology?
An oncologist is a physician who is concerned with the treatment of tumors and cancers. Cancer is when cells in the human body grow in an abnormal or out-of-control way. The goal of oncology is to cure a patient’s cancer, or, if the cancer is incurable, to control the cancer and reduce the symptoms for as long as possible.
Oncologists have several roles in their interaction with patients. They diagnose cancer and determine what stage the cancer is in, or to what extent the cancer has grown. They explain the diagnosis and stage to the patient, and they recommend treatment and deliver care. During treatment, oncologists are responsible for maintaining quality of life for their patients by reducing pain and side effects from medications.
There are three main types of oncologists:
Medical Oncologists specialize in the use of medications, especially chemotherapy, to kill cancer cells. In some areas, the term “medical oncologist” refers to the oncologist who is overall in charge of making decisions about a patient’s treatment.
Surgical Oncologists specialize in surgical treatments for cancer, such as biopsies (where small tissue samples are taken and examined), or surgical removal of tumors and surrounding tissue.
Radiation Oncologists specialize in the use of radiation (a kind of high powered x-ray) to kill cancer.
The American Society of Clinical Oncology also recognizes the subspecialties of Gynecological Oncology, which focuses on cancers of the female reproductive tract, and Pediatric Oncology, which deals with cancers that are most common in childhood.
In the United States, nearly one-half of all men and one-third of all women will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetimes. It is an unfortunately common disease that can sometimes be life-threatening. Oncologists provide care to millions of people facing that diagnosis every year.