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Oncology 101: What You Need To Know About Oncologists

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With the prefix ‘Onco-’ meaning a ‘bulk, mass or tumor’, the word ‘oncology’ refers to the branch of medicine dealing with the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer; Oncologists are the designated specialists for cancer care from diagnosis to post-treatment stage. At 8%, cancer is one of the leading causes of death in Pakistan alongside lower respiratory tract infections and cardiac disorders.

What Is Cancer?

Once considered absolutely untreatable, and with over 200 identified types, it is a set of diseases that results from the uncontrolled multiplication of some cells in certain parts of the body. This may lead to the formation of tissue masses or lumps known as tumors.

Tumors may be  benign- harmless and stationary, or considerably slow paced in their spread- malignant, or cancerous, and even premalignant with the potential to become cancerous. Malignant tumors have the potential to grow and spread to other parts of the body via the lymph nodes, destroying healthy tissues in a process called ‘metastasis’.

Alternatively, some forms of cancer cause cells to grow and divide at a slower rate. The type of cancer is typically assessed through its location in the body and the tissue it develops in. Genetic factors and lifestyle choices such as smoking and drinking may increase the risk of cancer. Other risk factors include age, obesity, infectious agents and immunosuppression.

What Is the Role of An Oncologist?

Oncologists as mentioned earlier are doctors who treat cancer, but their duties are a diverse mix of monitoring chemotherapy, performing surgery along with bedside manners.

An oncologist’s initial duty is to diagnose and determine the cancer type and stage through various tests, although most patients refer to oncologists after a possible tumor detection by their general physician.

Apart from working at hospitals, oncologists can participate in academic medicine or medical research. However, if they choose clinical practice, they may practice on their own, or as part of a group practice. 

Following diagnosis, a cancer specialist’s key duties are:

  • Explanation of diagnosis and discussion of possible treatment options with the patient, based on relevance and medical history.
  • Providing the best possible medical and emotional care-with the aid of other specialists, like dermatologists for skin cancer or psychologists, if need be.
  • Aiding in treatment-induced side effects and cancer-related pain, like constipation, nausea, vomiting and fatigue.
  • Providing palliative care for symptomatic relief, the lack of which usually results in cancer stage advancement in most patients in Pakistan.
  • Periodic and comprehensive follow-ups to detect a relapse (recurrence of the disease) or remission (being cancer-free) after initial therapy completion.

Types of Oncologists

 The field of oncology has three major areas of specialization:

1- Medical Oncologists

In addition to chemotherapy (killing cancer cells by stopping their division and growth abilities via certain drugs), oral chemotherapy, and targeted, hormonal and biological therapy, these specialists are also responsible for the long-term care of cancer patients, including regular checkups post treatment.

2- Surgical Oncologists

These specialists perform biopsies for examination and diagnostic purposes as well as surgically remove the tumor  depending on the patient’s condition and medical requirements.

3- Radiation Oncologists

These specialists work to kill cancerous cells via radiation therapy-individually or in collaboration with chemotherapy and/or surgery- and also provide symptom relief for patients with incurable cancers.

Other sub-types of oncologists are

  • Gynecologic Oncologists: Specializing in Gynecological cancer treatment such as uterine and cervical cancer.
  • Pediatric Oncologists: To treat certain brain tumors, leukemia, osteosarcoma, and Ewing’s sarcoma, which usually occur in children and teenagers.
  • Hematologist-Oncologists: For treating leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma (cancers of the blood) along with anemia, sickle cell disease thalassemia and cancerous tumors in other organs.

Training

An oncologist’s training involves earning either a doctor of medicine, MD, or a doctor of osteopathic medicine, DO, degree. This is followed by a completion of residency training in their speciality, followed by further training in their chosen field of oncology.

Medical oncologists require qualifying as internists, and surgical oncologists require training as general surgeons prior to entry in specific residency programs in oncology.

Gynecological oncologists are required to complete a residency in obstetrics and gynecology, while pediatric oncologists begin by training as pediatricians. Radiation oncologists require a year of general postgraduate medical training before entering radiation oncology residency programs.

The Future of Oncology

While underdeveloped in Pakistan, oncology is a rapidly progressing field, with a huge amount of research being conducted worldwide via clinical trials to understand cancer on a cellular level and find absolute cures.  Modern research is primarily centered around a search for effective cancer treatments, which include palliative care and pain relief.

While some cancer types-such as pancreatic cancer-are incurable, most cancers can be cured if detected early. Have any suspicious lumps checked immediately by your doctor or Book an Appointment with a top Oncologist in Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad through oladoc.com. Or call our helpline at 042-3890-0939 for assistance to find the RIGHT Doctor for your cancer-related issues.

Disclaimer: The contents of this article are intended to raise awareness about common health issues and should not be viewed as sound medical advice for your specific condition. You should always consult with a licensed medical practitioner prior to following any suggestions outlined in this article or adopting any treatment protocol based on the contents of this article.
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