Different sub-specialties within oncology

July 23, 2015

Article by Global Pre-Meds
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Oncology is a medical specialty that focuses on the diagnosis, treatment and management of cancer. An oncologist is a physician who practices oncology. Oncologists specialise in diagnosing cancer and prescribing a variety of cancer treatments ranging from medication and chemotherapy to surgery, radiation and palliative care.

Within the field of oncology, there are several sub-specialties that a qualified oncologist can choose to focus on.

Medical Oncologist – A medical oncologist specialises in treating solid tumours via chemotherapy or by referring the patient to a surgeon for removal of the tumour.

Gynaecological Oncologist – A gynaecological oncologist specialises in diagnosing and treating all cancers of the female reproductive system, including ovarian cancer, uterine cancer and cervical cancer amongst others. To become a gynaecological oncologist you will have to first train in OB/Gyn, after which you have to complete an additional fellowship training where you can choose to sub-specialise in oncology.

Surgical Oncologist – Surgical oncologists are surgeons who specialise in surgically removing cancerous tumours. The one major difference between surgical oncologists and other oncology specialists is that surgical oncologists do not train as internists like the others. Instead, a surgical oncologist is a general surgeon who does additional training in oncology and removal of cancerous tumours.

Haematologist – A haematologist specialises in treating disorders and malignancies of the blood. They treat cancers such as leukaemia and sickle cell anaemia amongst others. Most oncology fellowships include some training in both medical oncology and haematology. Haematologists usually work closely with a Blood and Marrow Transplant Centre, as bone marrow transplants are a common treatment for various haematological issues.

Paediatric Oncologist –Paediatric oncologists are physicians who specialise in diagnosing and treating cancers in children 18 years of age and younger.

Radiation Oncologist – Radiation oncologists use radiation treatment to treat cancer. Radiation oncologists are similar to medical oncologists. The only difference lies in the mode of treatment – radiation oncologists specialise in treating cancers with radiation instead of chemotherapy.

Education and training required

To become an oncologist you must first obtain a medical degree and then undertake further training – it can take over 14 years to become fully qualified in any of the oncology sub-specialties.

Most oncologists, with the exception of surgeons, train as internists. They first complete a residency in internal medicine, after which they complete a fellowship in oncology.

Irrespective of the sub-specialty, all oncologists are expected to be familiar with a wide variety of medical equipment and instruments associated with the different types of cancer treatments including chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

What working as an Oncologist is like

Most oncologists begin their career path in a hospital or clinic, eventually moving into private practice. As an oncologist, you can expect to work long hours and you will often be on call. This can be an emotionally draining field as oncologists spend a lot of time dealing with patients who have an incurable form of the disease. Frequent time-outs are a must for anyone working in this specialty.

For someone who can handle the extreme emotional roller coaster that is a hallmark of this specialty, this can be an extremely satisfying career as you save patients’ lives and help alleviate the pain and improve the quality of life in those who have a negative prognosis.

Oncology is also a financially rewarding career path, with oncologists being in the highest physician compensation range.