Oncology is the medical specialty dedicated exclusively to the diagnosis and treatment of cancer.
A medical oncologist is the doctor who typically coordinates and oversees the cancer patient´s medical care. They specialize in use of medications, such as chemotherapy, hormones/targeted therapies and analgesics (medications to reduce pain) in the management of cancer. The role of the medical oncologist is more than just prescribing medications to treat cancer. They care for the patient from the moment of diagnosis throughout the course of the disease and survivorship by:
- Educating the patient about their form of cancer and the stages of its development
- Discussing treatment options and making recommendations to the patient
- Monitoring the care and treatment of the patient throughout the course of the disease
- Working with the patient to improve the quality of life through healing therapy and in the management of pain and symptoms
Three areas of care
- Chemotherapy – Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to damage or kill cancer cells and is recommended treatment for many patients. It may also be given to some patients to reduce the size of the tumor before surgery. The Medical Oncologist will commonly prescribe more than one drug, or what is called combination therapy. Chemotherapy can be given by mouth, injection or infusion into a vein. The drugs can be given in a hospital, clinic or doctor´s office.
- Hormone Therapy – Hormone therapy is a form of systemic therapy that works to add, block, or remove hormones from the body to slow or stop the growth of cancer cells. Hormone therapy can be used to fight various forms of cancer, alongside supportive therapies to combat side effects. Many types of cancer require hormones for growth. Hormone therapy can be used to prevent cancer cells from getting the hormones they need to grow. Hormone therapy may be used in combination with other cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
- Immunotherapy – Some treatments are designed to help your own body´s immune system fight the cancer, similar to how your body fights off infection.
- Targeted Therapy – Cancer doctors know much more about how cancer cells function. New cancer therapies use this information to target cancer cell functions and stop them. Targeted cancer therapies focus on specific molecules that influence the growth and spread of cancer cells. These drugs can be used alone, but are usually combined with chemotherapy to more effectively block growth signals to cancer cells.
- Clinical Trials – Clinical trials are studies in which people volunteer to test new drugs or procedures. The goal of a clinical trial is to help cancer patients by finding a better way to prevent, diagnose or treat cancer. Each research study has its own guidelines for participation and generally participants are alike in important ways such as the type and stage of their cancer or other factors. In the past clinical trials were sometimes seen as a last resort for patients who had no other choice for treatment. Now patients with common cancers often choose to receive treatment in a clinical trial so that they may be the first to benefit from the new treatment. There is no right or wrong choice when it comes time to decide on taking part in a clinical trial. The decision is a very personal one and depends on many factors, including the benefits and risks of the study, what the person hopes to achieve by taking part, and other preferences and priorities.