Surgical oncologist- this is a specialist who is an expert in surgical procedures to remove a cancer from the body; these types of surgeons are often very specialized to treat cancers that originated in one specific part of the body. For example, a breast surgical oncologist is an expert in performing lumpectomy or mastectomy to remove a breast cancer. A colorectal surgical oncologist is an expert in removing colon cancers. Surgical oncologists have typically undergone training in a surgery residency, often followed by subspecialty surgical training in a fellowship.
Radiation oncologist- this is a type of cancer specialist that uses radiation treatments to treat cancer. Very often, this involves using a machine to "point" radiation and one part of the body to eradicate the cancer in that area. For example, a radiation oncologist may perform radiation treatments to the breast after a breast cancer lumpectomy to prevent recurrence. These physicians also are experts in using other forms of radiation less commonly (for example, intravenous forms of radiation or radiation implants directly placed into the body). Radiation oncologist typically are trained in a radiation oncology residency program, the first year of which typically does involve a general medical training year
Medical oncologist- this is a type of cancer specialist that uses medical therapies and attempt to treat or prevent cancers and other symptoms. They typically can utilize chemotherapy, hormonal therapies, and other medications. Medical oncologists first must successfully complete a complete residency program in internal medicine, and then this is followed by a fellowship program that focuses on medical oncology.
Generally speaking, as surgical oncologists and radiation oncologists focus on one area of the body, they typically perform a treatment only a single time, to that one body part. As medical oncologists have completed training as generalist physicians (similar to a primary care physician), they have unique training in the complete care of all aspects of a cancer patient's concerns, including long-term followup for both monitoring of carcinoma but as well and maintaining health and avoiding any long-term consequences from that the patient's prior treatment.
Other physicians that are also involved in the care of a cancer patient may include:
Pathologists- these are physicians who are experts in reviewing biopsy samples taken from the patient and are needed to accurately diagnose the presence or absence of carcinoma, as well as determined its type
Radiologists- these are physicians who are experts in reviewing x-ray tests, such as CT scans, PET scans, MRI, ultrasound, and others.
Interventional radiologists- these are physicians who are experts in using x-rays to assist them to perform certain procedures such as performing a biopsy, inserting specialized IV devices, and certain specialized treatments for cancers
Primary care physicians (family practitioners, internal medicine specialists, OB/GYN)-although not specifically cancer specialist, these are physicians who specialize in the care of the whole patient, including any additional medical disorders that may impact the patient's cancer treatment.
There are of course additional clinicians who also may participate in the care of cancer patients including but not limited to palliative care specialists, dentist, nutritionists, psychologists, and many others; every patient is unique in terms of their needs.
In our practice, we are all specifically trained in board certified in internal medicine and medical oncology. Our practice philosophy is that as internal medicine specialists who also specialize in cancer care, we are uniquely situated to manage every aspect of a patient's journey through their cancer treatment. We consider ourselves the "primary care" cancer physicians in that we are responsible for helping our patients understand their cancer, undergo appropriate staging tests, to select an appropriate surgeon and radiation specialist if needed, and guide the patient through this process.
We also consider ourselves responsible for maintaining health and quality of life of our patients for the long-term (often decades), including health management as well as further assistance in cancer screening and counseling.
Please feel free to e-mail me with any additional general questions about cancer specialists or about other topics for this blog. As a disclaimer, keep in mind that any blog posts are meant for general information only and not meant to represent specific medical advice for any individual patient. Specific questions about your personal medical care should always be directed to your own physician.
Future topics will include types of cancer centers, pros and cons of clinical trials, selecting your care team, and how to (safely) research more about cancer on the Internet