Types of Oncologists and Their Specialties in Oncology

Cancer is a disease that affects millions of Americans every year. The American Cancer Society estimates that nearly 2 million new cancer cases will be diagnosed in 2019 alone. This number is expected to rise to over 3 million by 2030. As such, the demand for qualified specialists is growing rapidly.

Oncologists are physicians trained specifically in diagnosing, treating and preventing cancers. They often focus on specific types of cancer, such as breast or prostate cancer.

What Are Oncologists?

Oncologists are doctors who diagnose and treat cancer. They often act as the main healthcare provider for someone with cancer—designing treatment plans, offering supportive care, and sometimes coordinating treatment with other specialists. 

What Does an Oncologist Do?

Cancer research is known as oncology. The management and treatment of cancer patients throughout the illness is a speciality for oncologists and includes:

  • They confirm the initial diagnosis of a patient.
  • They present all treatment options and making the recommendation.
  • Supervising the treatment plan.
  • It is their task to assist patients in managing disease and treatment-related symptoms and side effects.

1. Medical Oncologists

Medical oncology is a subspecialty within internal medicine that focuses on cancer treatment. The speciality requires extensive training and experience.

Medical oncologist has a unique combination of skills and knowledge that makes them uniquely qualified to treat patients with cancer. It includes diagnosing and treating breast, lung, colon, prostate, and ovarian cancers.

They treat cancer using a medication, including:

  • Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to treat cancer. There are many different types of chemotherapy, and they can be classified based on their mechanism of action. These mechanisms include cytotoxic agents (cell-killing agents). Antimetabolites (agents that inhibit DNA synthesis). Alkylating agents (agents that bind to DNA), hormonal therapy (agents that affect hormone production), etc.

  • Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy is a type of treatment that uses the body’s immune system to fight off disease. Cancer immunotherapy works by boosting the patient’s natural immunity to attack tumours. In some cases, the body may even recognize tumour cells as foreign invaders and destroy them before they have a chance to spread throughout the body.

  • Targeted therapy

Treating cancer cells is the goal of any cancer treatment. Targeted therapy is a drug that specifically targets cancer cells while leaving normal cells alone. To do this, the drug must have a specific receptor that only binds to cancer cells. Once bound, the drug triggers a cellular pathway that kills the cancer cells.

2. Radiation Oncologists

Radiation therapy (RT) is a cancer treatment that uses high-energy beams to kill or destroy cancer cells. RT is usually combined with surgery, chemotherapy and targeted therapies. The goal of RT is to cure the disease while minimising side effects.

Radiation therapy is a treatment where high doses of radiation are directed at tumours in the body. There are two types of radiation therapy: external beam radiation therapy and brachytherapy. 

  • External beam radiation therapy uses beams of radiation from outside the body.
  • Brachytherapy is internal radiation therapy. In both cases, the goal is to destroy malignant cells while minimising damage to surrounding normal tissue.

A radiation oncologist is a physician who specialises in treating patients with cancer using radiation therapy. They diagnose and treat cancers such as breast, lung, brain, prostate, head and neck, and skin, points out Vinay Kumar.

3. Surgical Oncologists

Surgical oncology is a medical speciality that treats cancers using surgery and other procedures. The term was coined in the last century when surgeons began performing operations to remove tumours. 

Today, surgical oncologists perform surgeries such as lumpectomies (removal of breast tissue). Mastectomies (removal or reduction of breast size) and lymph node dissections. They also treat patients undergoing radiation therapy, chemotherapy and immunotherapy.

A surgeon specialising in cancer care has extensive training in general and oncologic surgery. They usually perform these procedures at major academic centres where they have access to state-of-the-art facilities and equipment.


Understanding how oncologists treat cancer will help you understand why you need one when you get sick and may even give you some clues about which kinds of treatment might work best for you. Each type specializes in certain areas and will provide better care than generalist physician.


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