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Oncology is the study of cancer. There are several types of specialties which oncologists can enter, which all vary in the types of cancer and treatment methods which are used. Physicians that choose this career are among the most highly paid medical specialists in the field and also require some of the highest education. Education can range from 10-14 years before they are allowed to have a license and practice on their own, but still must attend classes periodically to update themselves about the newest techniques and treatments. They must do this throughout their careers to maintain their license.

What is Oncology?

Oncology is a branch of medicine that deals with cancerous tumors inside the body and can be defined as the study of cancer. The medical professional who deals with this branch of medicine is called an Oncologist, and they use their knowledge to diagnose, treat, and care for cancer patients[1]. Cancer is a disease which is caused by abnormal cells dividing without control, resulting in the invasion and controlling of other tissues. If this disease is left alone, the diseased cells will continue their expansion until a person's body cannot take anymore and death occurs. These diseased cells spread throughout the body using the blood or lymph systems. Cancer is not limited to one kind, as their are over 100 types that can appear anywhere inside the body. There are many types, but they are limited to these main categories:

Carcinoma- Cancer that starts within the skin or tissues covering the internal organs.

Sarcoma- Cancer beginning in supportive and connective tissues like cartilage, bone, muscle, and blood vessels.

Leukemia- Cancer in blood forming tissue like the bone marrow which produces vast amounts of abnormal cells which will spread throughout the body using the blood.

Lymphoma and myeloma- The abnormal cells start within the immune system.

Central nervous systems cancers- Cancer begins either in the brain tissue or on the spinal cord.

With all these types of cancer, Oncologists must be able to diagnose the disease quickly to be able to treat it to the best of their abilities. Oncology has come a long way in the study of this disease but there is still no cure, so treatment can be difficult[2].

Methods of Detection

For the most part, the earlier cancer is detected, the better the chance is that the person can make a full recovery. There are several ways to detect and diagnose cancer, but certain scans and tests are the most popular. There is no one test that allow oncologists to find the cancer and diagnose it, so they must use a variety of machines and tests to identify cancer listed below.

X-Ray/CT Scans are one of the ways oncologists identify the problem. CT scans are X-rays which use a computer linked to the x-ray machine to produce a series of clear and highly detailed pictures. With these clear pictures, oncologists can locate and identify both if the patient has cancer and what kind it is.

Radionuclide scanning is when a patient is injected with or swallows a slightly radioactive substance and then a scanner is used to measure radioactivity levels in the body. It provides numbers for certain organs and areas of the body and oncologists can look at these numbers and find any abnormal levels.

Ultrasonography is also used to see within the body. High frequency sound waves are sent throughout the body and bounce back, providing a picture called a sonogram. These pictures of the body come up on a monitor and can be printed if deemed necessary by the doctor, and oncologists can also use this type of imaging for the detection of cancer, although not as traditional.

MRI scanning can be used by oncologists for detection. It works by linking a powerful magnet to a computer to create high quality images of the inside of the body. The high quality of this particular type of scanning make it quite popular and make it easier on any type of doctor, not just oncologists, for the detection and diagnosis of their patient.

Other than imaging machines for detection, oncologists may use scopes like the one below.

Endoscopy is performed when a thin, lighted tube called an endoscope, can look into the body and identify anything abnormal, and it is named for the organ that it will be involving[3].


There are several treatment options for cancer that Oncologists use but the most common are:

Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment which uses different types of drugs to destroy cells that are affected. This method can be used in several different ways. It can be used to destroy cells, stop cancer from spreading, or slow the growth of cancerous cells. This method can be used in combination with other treatments or by itself. You may receive this before or after surgery or radiation, to help the process along. It also may be given before a blood stem cell transplant as well. This treatment can be administered through an IV, an injection into a certain part of the body, a pill or liquid taken by mouth, or a cream that is rubbed into the skin. Oncologists may give this treatment in period ranging from every day to every month, depending on that particular situation. There must be a rest period after chemotherapy before another session of treatment can begin[4].

Radiation Therapy is a type of treatment used to shrink tumors and kill cancer cells. There is a danger of killing other cells along with the diseased cells, so treatments must be carefully scheduled and administered. This treatment uses high energy radiation from X-rays, gamma rays, or charged particles either from machines outside the body (external-beam radiation) or from radioactive material placed within the body (internal radiation) which also is given the name brachytherapy. Of all cancer patients, around 50% will receive some kind of radiation therapy from their oncologist. This type of cancer treatment can only be used in combination with chemotherapy, as chemo can help the process of radiation work more efficiently. The type of radiation given to a particular patient all depends on the type of cancer, what stage it is in, and a number of other factors like location, past medical history, age or other medical conditions[5].

Cryosurgery is a surgical technique to freeze and kill abnormal cells within someone's body. It can be used to treat cancerous cells or precancerous cells, and is even used on noncancerous cells. How it works is the surgeon uses extreme cold coming from liquid nitrogen or argon gas to blast abnormal tissue and destroy it. This can be used on external tumors or placed directly on cancerous cells inside the body. Only certain types of cancer like retinoblastoma, assorted skin cancers, and precancerous conditions in the cervix that can develop into cervical cancer can be treated effectively by cryosurgery[6].


Oncologists deal with the treatment of cancer and must go through heavy schooling and training to do the job correctly. Below is some basic information about this field in medicine and what is required of a person desiring to become an oncologist.

Types of Oncologists

Medical Oncologists are the most common type of oncologists who specialize in the treatment of solid tumors in the body by using chemotherapy, or they may refer the patient to surgeon if further treatment is needed.

Hematologist Oncologists specialize in treating cancer and disorders of the blood. The types of diseases which they treat include leukemia, sickle cell anemia and others. Since medical oncology is the most common practiced type, physicians may practice a combination of the two or heavily in one and small parts of the other.

Radiation Oncologists are essentially the same as a medical oncologist except that they specialize in treating cancer with radiation rather than chemotherapy.

Surgical Oncologists specialize in the removal of tumors within the body. They are general surgeons who also practice additional training in oncology.

Gynecological Oncologists focus in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer in the female reproductive system. Some types of cancer which these oncologists focus on are ovarian cancer, cervical cancer, and uterine cancer.

Pediatric Oncologists specialize in diagnosing and treating children under the age of 18. They only work with small children, and never usually train in other fields of oncology[7].


Undergraduate Science Courses - Students aspiring to become an oncologist must focus on math and science courses like biology, physics, and chemistry. Once fours years of undergraduate education is completed, the student must proceed to medical school.

4 Year Medical School - Once accepted into medical school, the student must spend 4 years of intense study in sciences as well as working in outside school clinics. Coursework continues as well as on the job clinical training until medical school is completed. Once finished, they must begin their residency.

Residency - This 3 to 4 year period is spent in clinical cancer treatment assisting oncologists. This is followed by specialist training and sub-specialist training.

Specialist and Subspecialist Training - Since there are so many types of oncologists, listed above, a student must choose their specialty and sub-specialty. People pursuing a particular field in oncology need certification in each field they are studying for and must continue to meet the requirements of that particular field in the future.

Continued Education - If a oncologist wishes to continue to maintain their license and privileges, they must attend conferences and take classes periodically to update themselves on new procedures and protocols that will be used to make their treatment more effective[8].


In 2011, oncologists in the United States were among the best paid medical specialists, earning an average of $285,000 per year. There is a large margin of pay reported though, as around 9% of oncologists reported that they earned less than $100,000 and another 14% reporting they earned over $500,000; showing how much payment can change due to location, activity, and experience of a particular oncologist[9].


  1. "News". Web. December 13th, 2011
  2. "National Cancer Institute" . Web. December 13th, 2011.
  3. "", Web, Accessed Feb 12, 2012
  4. "National Cancer Institute", Understanding Chemotherapy, Web, Accessed Feb 12, 2012
  5. "National Cancer Institute", Radiation Therapy for Cancer, Web, Accessed Feb 12, 2012
  6. "National Cancer Institute", Cryosurgery in Cancer Treatment, Web, Accessed Feb 12, 2012
  7. " Health Careers",Types of Oncologists - Areas of Sub-specialty within the Field of Oncology, Web, Accessed Feb 12, 2012
  8. "",Education Requirements for an Oncologist, Web, Accessed Feb 12, 2012
  9. "", Oncologists Are Among the Best Compensated Physicians, Web, April 28, 2011