Medical oncologists are physicians who treat cancer through the use of medication, usually chemotherapy. Often a medical oncologist is the doctor in charge of a cancer patient’s health care, and this doctor may organize and coordinate all the care the patient receives, even that from other specialists.
Oncologist is a fancy word for a physician who treats cancer. There are three main types of oncologists: surgical oncologists perform surgery, radiation oncologists provide radiation therapy, and medical oncologists treat cancer with chemotherapy and other medication. There are also other distinctions between oncologists. For example, some oncologists specialize only in one or two tumor types (such as breast cancer or lung cancer), and pediatric oncologists only treat children and teens. However, all medical oncologists will be knowledgeable about the use of medicine to treat cancer.
While traditional chemotherapy is the most common medication used to treat cancer, other medications that a medical oncologist might use include hormonal therapies (such as Tamoxifen) or a newer kind of treatment called targeted therapy. Targeted therapy medications act only on cancer cells, while chemotherapy acts on all dividing cells in the body.
The care provided by medical oncologists usually begins when cancer is first suspected. They diagnose and stage cancer, or describe how serious it is. Medical oncologists are often the ones to explain to patients where their cancer is located, how severe their case is, and what treatment is recommended. They manage treatment and follow-up care after the cancer is removed, or they provide palliative care for patients whose cancer cannot be successfully treated.
Medical oncologists typically work with a group of health care providers that form a cancer team to provide care for each patient. The cancer team can include other physicians (such as oncologists and pathologists), oncological nurses, or social workers. Each specialist brings a very specific set of skills to the team, so working together as one unit, they offer a greater breadth of knowledge and skills for each patient.