One of the best introductions to a career in health care is to volunteer at a local hospital, clinic, or nursing home. In this way it is possible to get a feel for what it's like to work around other health care professionals and patients. As in any career, reading as much as possible about the profession, talking with your school's career services office, and interviewing those working in oncology are other important ways to explore your interest.
An oncologist is a physician who specializes in the study, diagnosis, and treatment of cancerous tumors. Because cancer can affect any organ in the body, and individuals of any age, there are many different kinds of oncologists. For example, medical oncologists have studied internal medicine and treat cancer through chemotherapy. Pediatric oncologists are pediatricians who specialize in cancers that affect infants and children. Gynecological oncologists specialize in cancers that attack the female reproductive organs, including the ovary, cervix, and uterus. Radiation oncologists treat tumors through radiation therapy. Surgical oncologists are surgeons who specialize in removing cancerous tissue to prevent its growth. There are many other subspecialties within the practice of oncology. In fact, there are almost as many different subspecialties of oncology as there are different kinds of doctors.
A clinical oncologist conducts clinical trials in order to identify the most successful strategies for fighting cancer. Clinical trials are studies that are conducted on consenting patients. By comparing the results of two different treatments on two groups of patients with similar symptoms, clinical oncologists are able to determine which methods are more effective in eliminating or retarding the development of cancer.
Because cancer can spread throughout the organs of the body, oncologists often work together in teams to identify the appropriate strategy for helping a patient. Many patients undergo a combination of chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgery to treat cancer, which is why it is extremely important for the physicians to coordinate the treatment process.
One emerging trend in the field of oncology is the use of precision medicine, which tailors treatments to individual patients based on factors such as their genetic makeup, lifestyle, and environment. As of 2020, the American Society of Clinical Oncology was committed to helping oncologists navigate this incredibly complex treatment approach by providing them with related data, tools, and training resources.