© 2005-2012 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). All rights reserved worldwide.
- An oncologist is a doctor who specializes in treating people with cancer.
- The three main types of oncologists are medical, surgical, and radiation oncologists.
- These different types of oncologists often work together to treat a person with cancer.
Oncology is the study of cancer. A doctor who specializes in treating people with cancer is called an oncologist. In most situations, a clinical oncologist manages the care and treatment once a person is diagnosed with cancer.
Within the field of clinical oncology, there are three primary disciplines: medical oncology, surgical oncology, and radiation oncology.
- A medical oncologist specializes in treating cancer with chemotherapy (the use of drugs to kill cancer cells).
- A surgical oncologist specializes in the surgical aspects of cancer, including a biopsy (the removal of a small amount of tissue for examination under a microscope) and surgically removing the cancer, the surrounding tissue, and sometimes, nearby lymph nodes (tiny, bean-shaped organs that help fight disease).
- A radiation oncologist specializes in treating cancer with radiation therapy (the use of high-energy x-rays to destroy cancer cells).
The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) also recognizes other types of oncologists:
- A gynecologic oncologist focuses on the care and treatment of women with gynecologic cancers, such as uterine cancer and cervical cancer.
- A pediatric oncologist specializes in the treatment of children with cancer and includes all three primary oncology disciplines listed above in the care of their young patients.
Also, some types of cancer occur most often in children and teenagers, such as certain brain tumors, leukemia, osteosarcoma, and Ewing's sarcoma. However, these occasionally occur in adults, and in these instances, an adult with one of these cancers may decide to be treated by a pediatric oncologist.
The role of the oncologist
ASCO believes that once a cancer diagnosis is made, an oncologist is responsible for the care of that patient from the moment of diagnosis throughout the course of the disease. The oncologist can:
- Explain the cancer diagnosis and stage (a description of the extent of the cancer) to the patient
- Discuss all of the treatment options and recommend the best course of treatment
- Deliver high-quality, compassionate care
- Help maintain the patient's quality of life by managing pain and other symptoms or side effects, such as constipation, nausea and vomiting, and fatigue
A person with cancer is often treated by a multidisciplinary team of oncologists, meaning doctors who specialize in different areas working together. This approach is used because cancer treatment frequently involves a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.
Other medical professionals involved in a patient's care usually include a:
- Pathologist (a doctor that specializes in interpreting laboratory tests and evaluates cells, tissues, and organs to diagnose disease)
- Diagnostic radiologist (a doctor that uses radiologic techniques, such as x-rays or ultrasound tests, to diagnose disease)
- An oncology nurse
- An oncology social worker
The team can also include doctors who specialize in other areas of medicine, such as a dermatologist for people with skin cancer. Learn more about the oncology team.
If there is a complex cancer diagnosis, a tumor board may be called upon to review the case. A tumor board consists of medical experts from all relevant disciplines who consult on the best course of treatment for an individual patient.