Becoming an oncologist requires a long and rigorous educational journey. To become an oncologist, one must first earn a bachelor's degree, followed by four years of medical school to become a Doctor of Medicine (MD) or Doctor of Osteopathy (DO). The two degrees held by Comprehensive Cancer physicians reflect different types of training in medical schools. DOs attend schools of osteopathic medicine, while MDs attend schools of allopathic medicine. Oncology is a subspecialty of internal medicine.
After graduating from medical school and becoming licensed physicians, physicians must complete a three-year residency in internal medicine. Medical oncologists specialize in treating and managing cancer using non-surgical methods such as chemotherapy, biological therapy, hormonal therapy, and targeted therapy. They coordinate cancer treatment plans and closely monitor their patients for side effects. Surgical oncologists often perform biopsies and remove a small section of tissue so that it can be tested for cancer cells. Hematologic oncologists also treat patients with bleeding disorders such as hemophilia, von Willebrand disease, and thalassemia, as well as blood cancers such as lymphoma and leukemia.
Gynecological oncologists specialize in cancers that affect women. After residency, medical oncologists must complete another two to three years on a medical oncology fellowship. Radiation oncologists specialize in giving external and internal radiation therapy to cancer patients. Oncologists accurately monitor and record various data related to patient care and often work with very precise and sometimes sharp tools. Mistakes can have serious consequences. If you have cancer, an oncologist will design a treatment plan based on detailed pathology reports that indicate what type of cancer you have, how much it has developed, how quickly it is likely to spread, and what parts of your body are involved.
The oncologist will also review any scans and tests you have already had and, if necessary, perform additional tests. In general terms, you may see an oncologist if you talk to your primary care doctor about a change in your body and they recommend that you have some preliminary tests. Requesting an evaluation from another oncologist is common practice, especially that of an expert in a specific cancer or body part. Another option is to look for a trusted hospital and then find out which oncologists are associated with that hospital.