Oncology is the branch of medicine that deals with the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. It includes medical oncology (the use of chemotherapy, hormone therapy, and other drugs to treat cancer), radiation oncology (the use of radiation therapy to treat cancer), and surgical oncology (the use of surgery and other procedures to treat cancer).

Medical oncologists are doctors who diagnose, assess, treat and manage patients with cancers (malignant tumours) and conduct translational research (ie research that has practical applications).

Nature of the work:

Medical oncologists aim to provide the best possible outcome for cancer patients, whether that is cure, or palliation and prolongation of good quality life. They also provide counselling for patients and their families. Clinical research is an important feature of their role. Clinical care, clinical trials, laboratory and translational cancer research form an integral part of the training. They are trained to work as part of a multidisciplinary team, able to advise on all aspects of treatment including surgery and radiotherapy as well as having the skills to administer systemic therapies.

Their work role includes:

  • Diagnosing cancers
  • Discussing treatment options with patients
  • Arranging and supervising drug treatment and therapies including the management of any complications that may arise
  • Supporting patients and overseeing their care, including their lives after treatment

Medical oncologists treat conditions such as:

  • Colorectal cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Lung cancer
  • Upper gastrointestinal (GI) cancer
  • Ovarian cancer
  • Tumours of the kidney (urological cancers)
  • Leukaemia
  • Melanoma

Common procedures/interventions:

These include:

  • Chemotherapy
  • Endocrine therapy
  • Biological therapies such as antibodies, small molecules and immunotherapy

When to see an oncologist:

If a person is diagnosed with cancer, or is suspected to have cancer, a GP may provide a referral to an oncologist. A biopsy (tissue sample) will be taken and examined by a pathologist. If it is found to be cancerous, a series of diagnostic tests and scans may be done to determine the size of the cancer and to find out whether it has spread.

Oncologists work as a team to recommend a course of treatment for individual patients.