Oncologist  What They Do

Just the Facts


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dotOncology is the study of the causes, properties, disease progressions and treatments of tumors and cancers. An oncologist is a physician who specializes in treating cancer.

Within the field, there are more areas of specialty. Gynecologic oncology is the medical study and treatment of cancers of the female reproductive organs, such as ovarian or uterine cancer. Neurologic oncology involves cancers of the brain and nervous system. Radiation oncology investigates the use of X-rays, gamma rays or electrons to destroy cancers.

Oncologists go through years of rigorous medical training. They not only need a biological and medical aptitude, but determination and perseverance. Gynecological oncologist Dr. Beth Karlan says you have to be motivated to do the seemingly impossible.

"If you tell me something's impossible, I'll do it just to show you're wrong," she says.

Other skills oncologists need are a high level of intelligence, good health and self-discipline. They need good business sense and the ability to organize the work of others. The profession also demands that they continue to study new developments in oncology and medicine throughout their career.

Finally, they should also be able to deal with many different kinds of people. When a patient hears what seems like a death sentence -- a diagnosis of advanced cancer -- they need an understanding friend. According to oncologist Dr. E. Roy Berger, "a good doctor can be that."

The majority of oncologists are in private practice. They see patients by appointment in their offices and examining rooms, and visit patients who are confined to the hospital. Some oncologists are in academic medicine and teach in medical schools and hospitals, while some are engaged only in research.

At a Glance

Specialize in treating cancer patients

  • You need self-discipline to make it in this field
  • Most oncologists are in private practice
  • This career requires a medical degree plus additional training