What Does an Oncologist Do?
Oncology, or the study of cancer, includes the work of doctors and scientists making discoveries in the complex world of medicine. An oncologist is a healthcare provider that specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. As technology has advanced, people continue to gain a further understanding of cancer. Scientists and doctors for cancer have learned more about oncology in the past few decades than they ever have before. Oncologists study conditions such as lung cancer, mesothelioma, and other forms of cancer.
Oncologists can play several roles throughout the cancer journey. This person may help diagnose cancer, provide treatment options, oversee treatment, and manage post-treatment care. Discover the types of oncologists, their specialties, and how an oncologist could assist if you are experiencing mesothelioma cancer symptoms or are in search of an expert.
Why Would a Doctor Send You to an Oncologist?
If a patient is experiencing cancer symptoms, their family doctor may refer them to an oncologist. However, seeing an oncologist does not mean that you have cancer, just that you may have cancer-like symptoms. When seeing an oncologist for the first time, they may suggest further testing to determine the cause of your symptoms and will also inquire about the different risk factors in your life that could contribute to a prognosis.
Types of Oncologists
Because there are several aspects of cancer, there are also different types of oncologists. There are three primary types of oncologists that specialize in certain treatments: medical, surgical, and radiation oncologists. Although these doctors all specialize in oncology, they diagnose and treat cancer in different ways.
1) Medical Oncologists
This form of oncologist specialist treats cancer through different types of medication. Medications that medical oncologists use include chemotherapy, hormone therapy, immunotherapy, and targeted treatments. Many forms of cancer medicine are used in conjunction with other treatments such as surgery and radiation.
2) Surgical Oncologists
A surgical oncologist treats cancer using surgery. A surgical oncologist may perform a biopsy to help diagnose cancer. After receiving a diagnosis, typical cancer surgery includes the removal of any tumors and surrounding tissues. Cancer surgeons help you prepare and recover from surgery.
3) Radiation Oncologists
Radiation oncologists treat cancer through radiation therapy. This form of therapy uses high-energy x-rays to fight and kill cancer cells. Doctors can use radiation therapy as both curative and palliative treatment as it can shrink tumors and make a patient more comfortable. Another name for a radiation specialist is a dosimetrist.
Other Specialized Oncologists
Aside from those that specialize in radiation, medicine, and surgery, oncologists can also specialize in types of cancer. Doctors can specialize in cancer by tumor location such as gynecologic, thoracic, and urologic. Additionally, some oncologists specialize in cancers classified by their patient’s age such as geriatric and pediatric oncologists.
A geriatric oncologist works with people that are older than 65 years. Because older adults can have additional complications and challenges, these oncologists are equipped to work with these conditions and make their patients comfortable.
Just as there are oncologists who treat adults, there are oncologists that treat children and teenagers. Pediatric oncologists often assist children until they reach the age of 20 as they have the knowledge and expertise to help children and their families understand a cancer diagnosis. Many pediatric oncologists also specialize in hematology, the treatment of blood disorders.
These oncologists treat cancers related to blood. Hematologist oncologists often have specialized training in the blood system, lymphatic system, and bone marrow cancers. Examples of cancers that a hematologist oncologist would treat include leukemia, lymphoma, and myeloma.
Doctors that specialize in treating cancers relating to the female reproductive system are referred to as gynecologic oncologists. A gynecologic oncologist treats cancers in organs such as the cervix, fallopian tubes, ovaries, vagina, and vulva.
Neuro-oncologists treat cancers that occur in the brain, spine, and nervous system. Neuro-related cancer often begins in the brain as a brain tumor and metastasizes to the spinal cord or nervous system.
Thoracic oncologists specialize in treating cancers inside the chest region including the lungs and esophagus. A thoracic oncologist would treat non-small cell lung cancer, small cell lung cancer, and pleural mesothelioma.
A urologic oncologist treats cancers in the genitourinary system. These doctor oncologists diagnose and treat cancers of both male and female urinary tracts and the male reproductive system. These oncologists can treat cancers in the bladder, kidneys, penis, prostate gland, and testicles.
What Should I Expect During My Visit to an Oncologist?
If you are experiencing cancer symptoms, you may want to visit an oncologist. You can often find an oncology specialist by visiting a top cancer medical center. Typically, the first appointment is a consultation, to determine whether or not cancer is present and provide a diagnosis. You should receive a thorough consultation, including a physical exam, discuss family history, and receive a variety of scans and tests such as bodily fluid tests and imaging tests like a CT scan.
If you need assistance connecting with an oncologist, Mesothelioma Hub can assist. Download your free mesothelioma guide to learn more about oncologists and their role in the cancer journey.
Madeline works for the patient advocate team and writes about asbestos exposure and mesothelioma. She is passionate about helping families in the mesothelioma community.