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What do Oncology Doctors do?

By Erin J. Hill
Updated Feb 05, 2024
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Oncology doctors are medical professionals who focus the majority of their energy on cancer. These sorts of professionals can do a number of different things and can have very different job descriptions depending on their specialties, interests, and training. Most work with a specific type of cancer, and may even focus on treating certain ages of people. Some work directly with patients undergoing treatments and spend most of their time designing drug regimens and plans for fighting the illness; others are more involved on the post-cancer side, guiding patients through remission and managing care to watch for recurrences. Professionals in this discipline may also be involved in research, usually developing new treatments or evaluating new drugs. No matter the day-to-day specifics, though, people in this field usually have the same core training and the same ultimate goal of fighting and, ultimately, curing cancer.

Understanding the Specialty as a Whole

Oncology is the study and treatment of cancer and tumors in various parts of the body. It is the oncologist's job to diagnose and treat cancer, and to work alongside other medical professionals or oncologists in choosing the best treatments. There are many different sorts of cancers that affect both people and animals, and a lot of what a person with this sort of training does is determined by specialty.

Specializations and Focus Areas

Most oncologists focus on a specific type of cancer or, alternatively, a specific subset of cancers. Some deal primarily with leukemia and lymphoma, for instances, two cancers of the blood. Others might focus on lung cancer, brain cancer, or digestive cancers; alternatively, they could specialize in pediatrics, which includes care of any cancer that occurs in children, or in cancers specific to either men or women. Oncology surgeons usually focus on the surgical removal or tumors and infected tissues.

It is possible for an oncology doctor to specialize in more than one sector of oncology and cancer treatment. For instance, many oncologists can treat patients using both chemotherapy and radiation, due to specialized training in both methods. In some instances, oncology specialists will also partake in additional studies to learn alternative treatments to cancer to use in conjunction with more conventional methods. These oncology doctors may undergo training in ozone therapy, UV therapy, radio therapy, and nutrition.

Direct Care

No matter his or her specialty, the majority of most oncologists’ time is spent directly caring for patients. They usually receive referrals from other, typically more general, doctors when cancer is suspected, then confirm and give a more detailed diagnosis. From there, they work with the patient and possibly also the patient’s family to devise a treatment plan. This frequently involves coordination with many different medical professionals, and may also require a lot of paperwork and insurance filings.

Recommendations for Prevention and Remission

In order for patients to stay healthy, it is also very helpful for oncology specialists to know and teach preventive measures that can be taken against cancer. This may include diet and exercise, as well as other precautions. This is especially important for patients who are recently recovered from cancer and those who are at high risk for developing the disease in the future.

Research Angles

It’s also usually possible for people with oncology training to work in more research-based jobs. These doctors still usually maintain their medical licensing, but typically spend more time in labs and running clinical studies than treating patients directly. Their work is very important to things like drug development and new care standards, and can influence the quality of treatments and the success rates of standard procedures.

Licensing and Other Professional Requirements

Like most medical professionals, oncologists typically have to spend a lot of time staying current in their field. Much of this is dependent on government licensing and continuing education requirements. Graduating from a medical degree program and completing regional requirements for an oncology specialty is almost always the first step, but it is rarely ever the last. Most jurisdictions also impose a number of requirements that oncologists and others must fulfill in order to remain current and in “good standing.”

The reasoning here is usually two-fold. Governments want to be sure that doctors stay on top of the latest trends in order to provide good care, and incentivizing continued learning can also lead to new breakthroughs and, often, lower patient costs. As advances in cancer treatment and detection become available, oncology doctors must remember to participate in continued education via seminars, classes, or networking with colleagues and researchers. This will help them to stay up to date in the best treatment options for every patient.

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Discussion Comments
By anon996924 — On Oct 26, 2016

Last year, I found out I had cancer. Then I learned I had it in my bladder and uterus and it traveled to my lungs near my heart. It was Stage 4, rare and was called small cell carcinoma. I had to have a cytso stent put in cause the cancer choked the urinary tube between the bladder and my kidney which was only at 10 percent.

I did chemo for 6 months and in 2016, my CT Scan showed the cancer still not growing but later, the cancer came back in the retroperitoneal lymph node left lateral of the aortic bifurcation. The cytso stent was removed and again I was healed,

My doctor, Donald Richards at Texas Tyler Oncology saved me in 2015, but now he is going to get me in on a clinical trial for a new drug called Nivolumal that builds my immune system up so high to fight the T-cells out of my body. Pray I will get it. Texas Oncology is great and I love my doctor, nurses and office staff. Great place to be healed from cancer! I will beat this cancer!

By anon327425 — On Mar 27, 2013

What stage of cancer is coded 117?

By rosoph — On Feb 17, 2011

I hope I never have to find a doctor of oncology. However, I am so thankful that so many great ones exist.

Not too long ago, my sister-in-law was diagnosed with cancer. While it's been an incredibly scary road, she had found wonderful doctors who are giving her treatment appropriate to her and her lifestyle.

She just found out that, after just a short time, the cancer is two-thirds of the way gone. We are all so happy, and expect her to live a long and happy life. This wouldn't be possible without the doctors who spent so much time and effort learning how to treat this horrible disease.

By roxytalks — On Feb 15, 2011

It must be really hard to be a doctor of oncology, and at the same time, it must be incredibly rewarding. It seems to me like it would be an emotional roller coaster.

There is the obvious depressing aspect of interacting with such sick people on a daily basis, many of which may not have long to live. But I imagine that it's worth it to be able to help the people who do survive. That must be a wonderful feeling.

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