What Is Oncology?

Oncologists diagnose cancer and treat patients using techniques like surgical resection, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Physicians and surgeons specializing in oncology typically have an area of expertise like surgical oncology, radiotherapy, pediatric oncology or neurologic oncology. Continue reading for more information about this field. Schools offering Anatomy & Physiology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Oncology Overview

Oncology is a specialized medical field dealing with the diagnosis, treatment and follow-up care of cancer patients. In addition to diagnosing and planning cancer treatments, some oncologists provide routine preventative cancer screenings for healthy individuals. An oncologist uses various methods to diagnose cancer, including X-rays, blood tests, MRIs and biopsies. Oncology treatment methods vary as well, because cancer is a complex disease that takes many forms; some options include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, surgery, immunotherapy and bone marrow transplants. Oncologists may also coordinate palliative care to relieve pain for patients with inoperable cancer.

Important Facts About Oncologists

Entry-level Education Doctoral or professional degree
Work Environment Private practice or group practice offices, clinics, hospitals
Key Skills Compassion, physical stamina and patience; communication, problem-solving and leadership skills
Similar Occupations Optometrist, dentist, podiatrist

Oncology Specialties

Practicing as an oncology specialist requires a few additional years of education and training in addition to the usual requirements for becoming a licensed physician. Some oncologists specialize in treating specific types of cancer, like neurological cancers or gynecological cancers. However, it is more common for oncologists to specialize in providing a particular form of cancer treatment, such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Here are a few types of oncology specialists and the types of treatment they're trained to provide:

  • Radiation oncologists (radiation therapy)
  • Surgical oncologists (biopsies and surgical resection)
  • Medical oncologists (chemotherapy)

Education and Professional Requirements

Oncologists are a specialized type of physician. They first earn an undergraduate degree and then attend medical school for another four years. During medical school, students spend the first couple years taking courses and the second couple years completing clinical rotations. From there, prospective oncologists would complete residency training in this specialty, which often takes four years. The oncology curriculum may cover clinical radiation, radiology, dosimetry, pediatric oncology and gynecologic oncology. Students also participate in research, professional conferences, academic journal clubs and other integrative experiences.

All physicians must hold a license, which requires completion of a residency and passing of several examinations. Medical doctors can also seek board certification in their specialty; the American Board of Radiology offers certification in radiation oncology.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

Oncologists usually work in hospitals or medical centers as salaried employees. The salary for the majority of oncologists ranged between $113,165 and $416,208, and the median was $251,356 as of May 2019, according to PayScale.com. Although the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics does not provide statistics for individuals employed as oncologists, it does indicate that job opportunities for physicians are projected to increase at a faster than average rate of 13% between 2016 and 2026 due to overall expansion in the healthcare industry and the necessity for physicians to treat issues that affect the elderly, like cancer.

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