Simply put, an oncologist is a medical doctor who diagnoses and treats cancer. It's because of this that oncologists are also known as cancer specialists. Each type of oncologist has a unique set of responsibilities, although there is also some overlap among specialties. Different kinds of cancer specialists include medical, radiation, surgical and dermatologic.
Of the various types of oncologist on their health care team, the patient will usually see the medical oncologist most often. As the main health-care provider of the patient, a medical oncologist is responsible for overseeing her general care. This kind of cancer specialist will do things such as coordinating treatment plans with other medical professionals, facilitating the processes of chemotherapy, hormone therapy and immunotherapy, and conducting the patient’s regular checkups over the long term.
Radiation oncologists are in charge of using radiotherapy to treat cancer. It's their job to ensure each treatment the patient receives is safe and effective. The other duties of a radiation specialist include keeping track of the patient’s progress, making any necessary changes to the treatment, managing any side effects of the radiation and working with other medical professionals such as surgeons to make the radiotherapy work as well as possible. A radiation oncologist isn't just involved with the patient’s treatment during radiotherapy but will also be working closely with the health care team before and after the course of radiation.
Surgical oncologists are surgeons with specific training in cancer treatment. Their tasks include performing diagnostic biopsies and removing tumors and other types of cancerous tissue. As an alternative to directly treating patients day-to-day, an oncological surgeon may decide to take up a teaching role or conduct scientific research to help the field of medicine discover how to better treat cancer patients. In both cases, the surgeon may not only have teaching or research responsibilities, but also administrative duties.
The dermatologic oncologist is a dermatologist with special training in the diagnosis and treatment of skin cancers, such as melanoma, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. Dermatologic oncologists make diagnoses by looking at the skin and thoroughly examining any moles, growths, dry patches or other abnormalities present. The dermatologist is also responsible for performing any necessary biopsies of the skin. After the dermatologic oncologist diagnoses a patient, the level of her involvement in the treatment will depend on which treatments she's chosen for the patient. For example, if cryosurgery is selected, the physician will freeze off the skin cancer herself.
- American Cancer Society: Health Professionals Associated With Cancer Care
- Cancer.net: The Oncology Team
- Medstar Washington Hospital Center: Dermatologic Oncologists
- RT Answers: Radiation Oncologists
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: A Career in Surgical Oncology: Finding Meaning, Balance, and Personal Satisfaction
Based in London, Autumn St. John has been writing career- and business-related articles since 2007. Her work has appeared in the "Guardian" and "Changing Careers" magazine. St. John holds a Master of Arts in Russian and East European literature and culture from University College London, as well as a Bachelor of Arts in modern history from the University of Oxford.