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.