Oncology and Cancer Biology

Learn more about the field of oncology and cancer biology. Explore what careers are available in this field and get information about job prospects, earning potential, education and training.

Are Oncology and Cancer Biology for Me?

Career Summary

The fields of oncology and cancer biology look at the onset, chemical components and treatment of various cancers through genetic, biological and biochemical lenses. Specifically, oncology is the medical study of tumors, while cancer biology takes a wider look at the molecular biological, genetic and cell biological structures of cancer. The two fields often overlap.

Work Responsibilities

As a medical researcher in one or both of these areas, you'd have the opportunity to contribute to pioneering work on metastasis, tumors or genetics that could someday help prevent or even cure various kinds of cancers. In healthcare work as a radiation therapist or nuclear medicine technologist, you might perform endoscopies, biopsies and blood tests for cancer patients. Medical director, registered nurse (RN) and postsecondary biology teacher are other job options that may relate to oncology or cancer biology.

Employment Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that medical scientists, including cancer biologists, can expect a job growth rate of 13% across the 2012-2022 decade (www.bls.gov). This faster-than-average growth is due in part to advances in biotechnology and expanded research into life-threatening illnesses, such as cancer and AIDS. Also during the 2012-2022 decade, radiation therapists and nuclear medicine technologists can expect job growth rates of 24% and 20%, respectively.

Salary Information

The BLS reports that the median wage for medical scientists was $76,980 as of May 2013. Radiation therapists earned a median of $79,140 per year, and nuclear medicine technologists made $71,120 during the same year. The median wage for postsecondary biology teachers was $75,740. Additionally, PayScale.com reports that as of 2014, the median hourly wage for RNs working in oncology is $27.94.

How Can I Work in Oncology and Cancer Biology?

Education Options

Of the many careers within the fields of oncology and cancer biology, nearly all require postsecondary education and many require certification. If you want work as a medical scientist, you could pursue a bachelor's degree in the biological sciences at a 4-year university. Next, you would need a doctoral degree (Ph.D.) in oncology and cancer biology. A typical Ph.D. program, usually lasting six years, combines coursework in carcinogenesis, virology, tumor cell biology and toxicology with independent research and a dissertation.

Many medical scientists do post-doctoral research before working in government, private industry, cancer organizations or as cancer biology professors. If you want to practice as a licensed oncology doctor, as do some medical scientists, you must complete an accredited Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) program and residency, which can take at least seven years.

Additional Careers and Licensing

To be a radiation therapist or nuclear medicine technologist, you could complete a bachelor's or associate's degree program. Depending on the state, radiation therapists must then become certified by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT). Nuclear medicine technologists can also voluntarily receive certification from ARRT and/or the Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board (NMTCB).

Earning an associate's degree in nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) are both pathways to becoming a registered nurse. All states require prospective nurses to complete the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) and obtain a state license.

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