All You Need to Know About Oncologists

What is Oncology?

The word oncology is derived from the Greek word “onkos” meaning tumour or mass and “logos” which means “study”. Oncology is a sector of medicine that specifically deals with the causes, diagnosis, and prevention of tumors and cancer. Doctors who practice oncology are referred to as oncologists and are specialists in their field. Oncology is rather serious study and should not be taken lightly. To prepare yourself in finding or just learning more about oncology, this article will highlight all the necessary information to get you started!

To begin, there are three main fields of oncology: medical, surgical, and radiation. Each of these sectors deals with different medical practices. For example, a cancer patient who is being treated by a medical oncologist could expect their doctor to use chemotherapy, targeted therapy, and/or immunotherapy whereas a surgical oncologist physically removes cancerous tissues. Surgical oncologists may also perform biopsies. Biopsies refers to the practice of removing tissues from the human body to find a cause and to determine the extent of any given disease. In terms of cancer related biopsies, removed tissues from the affected areas are studied to diagnose the presence of cancer. Biopsies are the only way to determine a diagnosis of cancer. Lastly, a radiation oncologist treats patients by using radiation therapy.

While reading this you may have thought to yourself, but what is radiation and how is it different from chemotherapy? Questions about the different procedures will be answered in the next segment. However, if you would like more in depth information on oncology, watch this YouTube video!

What is Radiation Therapy?

Cancer patients who seek oncological help will most likely undergo radiation therapy. Radiation therapy is also known as radiotherapy and is the process of releasing high concentrations of radiation to the body to minimize the cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute, radiotherapy staves off cancerous cells while also shrinking the size of existing tumours. The high concentration of radiation disrupts the DNA of the cancer cells. This disruption breaks the formation of the cancerous cells to a state where it cannot regenerate and allows for the body to naturally expel of them.

Radiotherapy unfortunately does not instantaneously kill the cancerous skills. Treatment takes days or weeks and the cells continue to break down in the months following radiation therapy.

Radiation can take two forms. The first is called internal radiation therapy which places the radiation, either liquid or solid, directly into the body. The second form is called external beam which directs the radiation only on the areas where treatment is needed. External beam radiation would target the chest for patients with lung cancer whereas internal radiation would treat the whole body.

What is Chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy is perhaps the most well-known type of cancer treatment. Chemotherapy refers to the practice of taking a mixture of strong drugs and chemicals in intervals to kill off and/or break down cancer cells. These drugs and chemicals must be strong enough to kill cancer cells but this also means that it possesses the possibility of harming healthy cells. This risk oftentimes becomes a reality but it is a known fact that these cancer killing agents are more potent to cancer cells than they are to normal cells.

Chemotherapy can vary depending on the drugs and chemicals administered but they all kill and break down the growth of cancerous cells. Normal cells divide producing a replica, cancerous cells grow uncontrollably and affects healthy cells.

Chemotherapy is most often times given through a catheter or a central line but can also take the form of orally ingested pills and liquids. Chemotherapy is sometimes used in conjunction to radiotherapy.

What is Targeted Therapy?

According to the American Cancer Society, targeted therapy is an up and coming treatment that is better at targeting specific areas of the body for treatment. Targeted therapy was created when it was discovered that different cancers exhibited patterns in the growth of cancer cells. Drugs were then introduced to counter and disrupt these growth patterns. Although targeted therapy is a type of chemotherapy, the side effects are different.

Drugs used in targeted therapy do not work in the same way as traditional chemotherapy drugs. Targeted therapy drugs attack the abnormalities in cells which makes them cancerous and also prevents other cells from assisting in the growth of cancer cells. Targeted therapy drugs can bolster the immune system to fend off and kill cancer cells, they can block off chemical signals which allows for the cells to duplicate, change the proteins in the cells so that they die, cut off the blood supply to cancerous cells, and use medication to kill affected cells.

Targeted therapy is becoming a more common form of cancer treatment for a variety of cancer types and is usually used in conjunction to surgery, chemotherapy, and/or radiation.

What is Immunotherapy?

Immunotherapy is another form of cancer treatment which works by reinforcing the body’s natural defenses to combat cancer. By boosting the immune system, immunotherapy can halt the growth of cancer cells and it can improve the immune system to destroy cancer cells. In order for immunotherapy or biologic therapy, as it is also known as, to work it is necessary to introduce the body to either laboratory made or naturally occuring substances. Immunotherapy takes several forms including monoclonal antibodies, oncolytic virus therapy, and non-specific immunotherapies amongst others.

Monoclonal

antibodies are laboratory made and can be used in targeted therapy. They are meant to create antibodies to fight off abnormal proteins. Antibodies alerts the immune system to fight off and destroy the abnormal cells leading to the regression of cancer.

Oncolytic Virus Therapy

uses genetically modified viruses to eliminate cancer cells in tumours. The oncologist injects the tumour directly with the genetically modified viruses. The viruses invade the cancer cells and duplicates itself which ultimately leads to the cancer cells bursting and dying off. For every destroyed cancer cell, antigens are released. Antigens alerts the immune system to target other cancer cells that have the same antigens. Oncolytic virus therapy does not affect healthy, normal cells.

Oncolytic virus therapy is not a one-step cure all. It takes several injections for the virus to spread and work effectively. Side effects of oncolytic virus therapy usually presents themselves in flu-like symptoms.

Non-Specific Immunotherapies

are similar to monoclonal antibodies in that it strengthens the body’s natural immune system to fight off cancer cells. Non-specific immunotherapies are given sometime during the process of chemotherapy and/or radiation. However, there are cases where non-specific immunotherapies are used as the main form of treatment.

Oncology Pictures

Types of Oncology

Oncologists range in specialties since there are so many different forms of cancer. Oncologists can help to diagnose and treat breast, endometrial, cervical, lung, ovarian, stomach, and many other kinds of cancers. The study of oncology has made numerous immeasurable strides over the years. Never has there been higher rates of survival and new treatments to combat cancers are being developed. Below is a small list of different types of oncology.

Gynecologist

Gynecologic oncologists are physicians who help to detect and treat cancers that take place in the reproductive organs of women. Gynecological oncologists must go through many years of schooling before they can start practicing. Not only must they complete their courses in obstetrics and gynecology residency, but they must also then follow up with a specialty fellowship in gynecologic oncology. Gynecologic oncologists are required to develop intensive knowledge on treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation, research techniques and surgery.

To find a gynecologic oncologist near you, it is recommended that you look at the different hospitals in your area and see which one suits your needs the most. Hospitals have different waiting times for their patients and the doctor(s) may prefer one treatment over another so it is always a good idea to do your research!

Radiation

Radiation oncologists are specialist doctors who excel in radiation therapy. These doctors use radiation to reduce, minimize, and kill off cancerous cells. Ultimately, radiation oncologists assess each patient individually to determine which types of radiotherapy would be best suited to their condition. Radiation oncologists may work with other types of oncologists by assisting in prescribing medications, ordering images, and work with others to come up with the best treatment plans for the patient. Radiation oncologists are present for follow ups after treatment is done to ensure that patients feel their best in their present state. Every hospital that treats cancer will have a radiation oncologist. To find a radiation oncologist near you, be sure to find a hospital that you feel comfortable with. Cancer treatment can be long and arduous so finding a place where you feel safe and comfortable is very important.

Orthopedic

Orthopedic oncologists are physicians who have specialized in diagnosing and treating cancers that affect the bones. Orthopedic oncologists are required to go through extensive schooling including the four years for medical school and an additional five years for orthopedic surgical residency.

To find an orthopedic surgeon near you, several things must be taken into consideration. The most important thing to know is that bone cancers are relatively rare and because of that there are much fewer orthopedic oncologists than there are oncologists specializing in other fields. Your best luck in finding an orthopedic oncologist would be in urban hospitals with a dense population. That being said, orthopedic surgeons may be able to help treat and perform surgeries on tumours but for cancers that affect the bone it is best to seek the advice of an orthopedic oncologist.

Medical

Medical oncologists are your most general of oncology doctors. They are tasked with helping their patients with managing their cancer. They must be adept at administering and surveilling the use and process of chemotherapy. Other duties include diagnosing the kind of cancer a patient has, the stage at which the cancer is progressing, informing patients of their treatment options, and advising their patients on which form of medical treatment would best be suited to their condition. Medical oncologists are often the first doctor to start palliative care. Medical oncologists are there for you every step of the way and will be present for the long term to make sure their patients are doing as well as possible. They also act at the go between for their patients and other doctors and/or specialists so patients can rely on their oncologist to map out their journey to healing.

Pediatric

Cancers that affect children are treated by pediatric oncologists who are specialized in treating infants, children, and adolescents. Pediatric oncologists must undergo a 3 year-long residency in pediatrics upon graduating medical school. After their residency, another 3 years must be dedicated in undergoing a pediatric hematology-oncology fellowship. Pediatric oncologists are also educators and usually teach in addition to performing their daily tasks as pediatric oncologists.

Pediatric oncologists deal with leukemia, lymphomas, tumours, and cancers that affect the blood. Finding a pediatric oncologist near you should not be a problem since all, if not most, children’s hospitals have a cancer ward. If your local children’s hospital does not have a pediatric oncologist on hand, going to urban hospitals would be your next best option.

What to Take Away

Being diagnosed with any cancer, at any stage is a scary and traumatic event. Oncologists are here to help you and your family with navigating the tough journey ahead. Finding the best oncologist near you should not be a problem as all oncologists are trained to be sympathetic, patient, and knowledgeable.

It is important to remember to get your yearly physical and to disclose any information if you have a family history of cancer. Other signs that you may have or may be more susceptible to developing cancer include, but are not limited to: noticing irregular growths that did not exist before, pain and discomfort in your bladder and/or bowels that does not seem to have any correlating relation to food consumption, unexplained bleeding, and persistent coughing. Many signs of cancer can be explained away as symptoms of other diseases and ailments so it is imperative that yearly check-ups be followed up on. Also, if you have any concerns about your health it is always encouraged that you make an appointment to seek professional medical advice.

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