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Medical oncology is a medical subspecialty in which physicians are specially trained for treating cancer. Some physicians have broad training and can work with patients who have a variety of cancers. Others specialize even further and specifically treat patients with certain types of cancers, such as breast, lung or prostate cancer. Medical oncologists care for patients with cancer from the time they are diagnosed through the entire course of their disease. These specialists help patients understand their diagnosis, discuss and recommend appropriate treatment options, and manage symptoms and pain to improve the quality of life of their patients. Medical oncologists also are skilled in working as a team, which is common in the treatment of cancer. They often work in conjunction and coordinate care with other healthcare providers, such as radiation oncologists, surgical oncologists, nurses, and radiologists amongst others.
Radiation oncology is a type of medical subspecialty in which the physicians are trained in treating patients with cancer using radiotherapy – a type of treatment that uses radiation. Most patients already have a diagnosis of cancer when they are referred to a radiation oncologist. These specialists evaluate patients, order imaging and other tests, and recommend individualized treatment plans. For example, radiation oncologists must determine the best available method and technique in which a patient should be treated (i.e., high energy X-rays, electron beams, or gamma rays) and what dose they should receive for optimal and safe treatment. Radiation oncologists are often part of the multidisciplinary care team, and they work closely with other healthcare providers to effectively treat patients with cancer.
Surgical oncology is a type of medical subspecialty that focuses on the treatment of a variety of tumors using surgery. Surgery has long been a treatment option for those with cancer. Surgical oncologists help by evaluating patients and performing diagnostic and staging studies to determine if the cancer is able to be removed with surgery and what type of surgical technique to use. Many patients have cancer that is curable through surgical removal, thanks in part to improved screening techniques. In cases that are not curable by surgery, surgical oncologists may still perform a procedure known as “debulking” to remove as much of the cancer as possible with the goal of reducing symptoms such as pain, or bleeding. Like medical and radiation oncologists, surgical oncologists function as part of the larger healthcare team that cares for patients with cancer.