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What is Oncology?

Doctors and Medical Specialties

Oncology is the field of medicine that involves the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. Oncologists generally specialize in cancer treatment, but some focus on certain types of cancers, blood diseases (hematology), and specialized forms of treatment. Oncologists work in hospitals, medical centers, and research organizations.

Specialists in oncology include:

Gynecological oncology - diagnose and treat cancers of the female reproductive organs

Medical oncology - use medical chemotherapy to treat certain types of cancer

Medical oncologists and hematologists - treat malignancies of the blood and related tissues

Pediatric oncology - specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of cancers in children

Radiation oncology - use radiation treatment in cancer

Surgical oncology - trained in several types of surgeries including biopsies and tumor removal

The role of an oncologist is to diagnose cancer, explain the diagnosis to the patient, and arrange treatment based on the stage of the disease at the time of diagnosis. Oncologists coordinate medical care by suggesting treatment options, recommending course of treatment, managing pain, and referring the patient for psychological counseling. This is often done in conjunction with other specialists.

Treatment for cancer may include medication, radiation, chemotherapy, surgery, or palliative care (or treatment of symptoms to improve quality of life). Cancer prevention, diagnosis, and treatment have advanced within the last two decades, leading to the current trend towards early detection technologies. Pap smears, mammograms, prostate screenings, and colonoscopies have become routine tests general practitioners and gynecologists prescribe for their patients.

An oncologist may be referred by a primary care physician, clinic, or hospital. Because of the serious nature of cancer as an illness, oncologists should be compassionate and sensitive to patients' needs, and be communicative and informative about the options for cancer treatment and pain management. The doctor-patient relationship is extremely important in oncology. Finding the right fit depends on a good rapport, ease of communication, shared philosophies on treatment and pain management, and overall trust.

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