What Is an Oncologist?

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

What Does an Oncologist Do?

Oncology is the study of cancer. Oncologists specialize in managing and treating patients throughout the disease, which involves:

  • Confirming a patient’s initial diagnosis
  • Explaining the cancer diagnosis and stage
  • Providing all possible treatment plans and offering recommendations
  • Overseeing the course of treatment
  • Helping patients manage symptoms and side effects of both the disease and the treatment plan

Their work isn’t limited to cancer treatment, however. Many oncologists are board-certified to practice hematology as well, treating patients with blood conditions including:

  • Anemia, a condition that results from a shortage of red blood cells
  • Sickle cell disease, an inherited blood disorder that can affect circulation
  • Different types of thrombosis, which occur when blood clots block blood vessels

Oncologists typically have a specialty within the field, so they often expand a patient’s team to include the right doctors for a chosen treatment plan. 

Types of oncologists include:

  • Medical oncologists who treat cancer with chemotherapy or immunotherapy
  • Surgical oncologists who remove tumors in surgery
  • Radiation oncologists who treat cancer with radiation therapy

Other oncology specialists focus on treating cancer in specific areas of the body. For example, gynecologic oncologists treat uterineovarian, and cervical cancers, while a hematologist-oncologist focuses on blood cancers. Some pediatric oncologists specialize in cancers common in children and teenagers. 

Education and Training

As medical doctors, oncologists’ study of cancer and blood disorders begins in medical school, after which paths diverge depending on a doctor’s chosen specialty. 

After completing medical school, oncology students:

  • Advance to a two- to five-year residency program, usually in internal medicine or surgery
  • Obtain their medical license and pass required board certification exams
  • Complete graduate or fellowship program in a chosen oncology specialty 
  • Pass subsequent licensing exams 

Reasons to See an Oncologist

Your general practitioner or family doctor may refer you to an oncologist if they want an expert’s opinion in a specific field or can’t determine a cancer diagnosis. This intent is to narrow down—and rule out—potential causes of an issue so that you get the best course of treatment possible.

Your doctor might refer to you an oncologist to:

Test an Unusual Growth or Lump

Doctor’s offices usually aren’t equipped to diagnose a cancerous tumor, so they’ll refer you to an oncologist for further testing. Most suspected tumors are benign or harmless, but this referral helps the doctor:

  • Ensure your peace of mind with a negative test
  • Rule out cancer as a cause of any symptoms you’re experiencing
  • Catch a potentially malignant or harmful tumor in its early stages—when treatment options are most successful
  • Direct the best possible care in the event of a positive test result

Provide Cancer Treatment

If you have a confirmed cancer diagnosis, the doctor will refer you to an oncologist who will review your case individually, explain all of your treatment options, and offer their recommendation.

Depending on cancer, its stage, and any potential health complications, this plan could include:

  • Radiation to slow a tumor’s growth without damaging healthy tissue
  • Surgery to physically remove a tumor
  • Targeted therapy to limit a tumor’s spread to other areas of your body
  • Chemotherapy treatment that destroys cancer cells

Get a Second Opinion

Cancer is a complex disease, and its treatments continue to evolve. Asking for another oncologist’s evaluation is common practice, especially for an expert in specific cancer or body part.

This second opinion can help to:

  • Confirm a diagnosis with a specialist
  • Learn additional details about cancer’s type and stage
  • Explore more treatment options
  • Understand how cancer affects other parts of your body
  • Find clinical trials available for you

Diagnose and Treat Blood Disorders

Many oncologists also specialize in hematology—the study and treatment of diseases related to the blood.

Your doctor may refer you to a hematology-certified oncologist for treatment if you have:

  • Symptoms of anemia, like brittle nails, a swollen tongue, an enlarged spleen, heart problems, or fatigue
  • Symptoms of sickle cell disease, like frequent infections, swollen hands and feet, vision problems, or severe episodes of pain
  • Symptoms of thrombosis, like swelling, pain, discoloration, or warmth in the affected area

Hematology oncologists also treat patients with clotting disorders like hemophiliavon Willebrand disease, Thalassemia, and cancers of the blood like lymphoma and leukemia.

What to Expect at the Oncologist

Your first visit to an oncologist is a consultation. Ultimately, the doctor’s goal is to identify—or rule out—if and where cancer is present, establish an accurate diagnosis, and provide you with the best resources to overcome your condition.

During this initial appointment, the oncologist will perform a thorough physical examination and take the time to learn more about your medical and family history. Make sure to bring all of your available medical records, including a list of any medications or supplements you take. 

The oncologist will also review any scans and tests you’ve already had and perform additional tests if necessary. This generally starts with the oncologist examining your blood, urine, and other bodily fluids for high or low levels of certain substances that could be signs of cancer or blood disorders. They may also run visual imaging tests like CT scansMRIsPET scans, or ultrasound exams.

If cancer is suspected, oncologists usually need to perform a biopsy to confirm test results.

Depending on the area in question, there are different biopsy methods to retrieve a small tissue sample. The oncologist’s team—which includes a pathologist—then studies the sample to see if it contains cancer cells. 

If your oncologist confirms cancer or blood disorder diagnosis, their next steps are to:

  • Inform you of all treatment options and offer their recommendations
  • Discuss fears and anxieties you may have
  • Put together the right team of specialists to deliver a comprehensive treatment plan
  • Offer an early prognosis or basic prediction of your recovery timeline

Oncologists will also answer any questions you have, which could include:

  • Where and when to get a second opinion
  • How the treatment will affect your fertility
  • If you’re a good candidate for a clinical trial
  • What resources are available, like support groups
  • What side effects to expect from your treatment plan
  • Your treatment plan’s goals and success rates

**What Is an Oncologist?**


An oncologist is a medical specialist who focuses on the diagnosis, treatment, and management of cancer. They play a crucial role in providing comprehensive care to cancer patients.

**Types of Oncologists:**

* **Medical oncologists** specialize in ​treating cancer using​ systemic therapies such ⁣as chemotherapy, immunotherapy,‌ and targeted therapy.

* **Surgical ‍oncologists** perform surgeries to remove cancerous tumors.

* **Radiation oncologists** use ‍radiation therapy to destroy cancer cells.

* **Gynecologic oncologists** treat cancers of the female reproductive system.

* **Pediatric oncologists** diagnose and ‍treat childhood cancers.

**Education and Training:**

To become an oncologist, individuals must:

* Complete medical school.

* Obtain a medical license.

* Complete a fellowship in medical, surgical, or radiation⁢ oncology.

**Responsibilities⁣ of an Oncologist:**

An oncologist’s responsibilities⁢ include:

*‍ Diagnosing ‍cancer using medical⁢ tests and procedures.

* Developing and implementing treatment plans tailored to the patient’s specific ⁢condition.

* Prescribing and ​administering​ treatments, including chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation therapy.

* Monitoring patients’ progress and adjusting treatment⁤ strategies as needed.

* Providing⁤ emotional and psychosocial support to patients and their families.

* Conducting research‍ to improve cancer diagnosis and treatment methods.

**Why See an Oncologist?**

It is essential ⁣to see an oncologist if you have:

* A confirmed cancer diagnosis.

* Suspicious symptoms that could indicate cancer, such ​as unexplained weight loss, fatigue, or changes in bowel ‍habits.

* A family history ⁣of cancer.

* Concerns about cancer risks or prevention.

**Benefits of Seeing an Oncologist:**

Consulting with an oncologist provides many benefits, ‌including:

* Access to specialized expertise and advanced treatment options.

* Personalized care plans tailored to your specific needs and circumstances.

* Early detection and diagnosis, which ⁢can lead to improved outcomes.

* Comprehensive and‌ supportive cancer care from a team of medical professionals.


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