What is an Oncologist?

An oncologist is a medical doctor who specializes in the diagnosis, treatment, and management of cancer. Oncologists work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, clinics, and research institutions. They collaborate with other healthcare professionals, such as surgeons, radiologists, and pathologists, to develop a comprehensive treatment plan for their patients.

In addition to diagnosing and treating cancer, oncologists also provide supportive care to their patients. This includes managing symptoms and side effects of cancer treatments, such as nausea, pain, and fatigue. They also provide emotional support and counseling to help patients cope with the challenges of cancer diagnosis and treatment.

What does an Oncologist do?

An oncologist speaking with his patient at her hospital bed.

Duties and Responsibilities
Oncologists play a significant role in the diagnosis, treatment, and management of cancer patients. Their duties and responsibilities encompass a wide range of clinical and patient care tasks, as well as research and collaboration with multidisciplinary teams. Here are some of the key duties and responsibilities of an oncologist:

  • Diagnosis: Oncologists are responsible for diagnosing cancer in patients through a variety of methods, including physical examinations, imaging studies (such as X-rays, CT scans, and MRIs), and laboratory tests (such as blood tests and biopsies). They interpret test results, evaluate the extent and stage of cancer, and develop individualized treatment plans based on the specific type and stage of cancer.
  • Treatment Planning: Oncologists develop comprehensive treatment plans tailored to each patient's unique medical history, cancer type, stage, and overall health. Treatment options may include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted therapy, immunotherapy, hormone therapy, and/or palliative care. Oncologists carefully consider the potential benefits and risks of each treatment modality and collaborate with patients to make informed decisions about their care.
  • Treatment Administration: Oncologists oversee the administration of cancer treatments, whether they are performed in outpatient clinics, hospitals, or specialized cancer centers. They monitor patients' responses to treatment, manage side effects and complications, and make adjustments to treatment plans as needed to optimize outcomes and quality of life.
  • Patient Education and Support: Oncologists provide education and support to patients and their families throughout the cancer journey. They explain the diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment options in clear and compassionate terms, address concerns and questions, and help patients navigate the complex healthcare system. Oncologists also offer emotional support, counseling, and resources to help patients cope with the physical, emotional, and practical challenges of cancer treatment.
  • Research and Clinical Trials: Many oncologists are actively involved in clinical research and may conduct studies to evaluate new cancer treatments, therapies, and technologies. They participate in clinical trials to advance scientific knowledge, improve treatment outcomes, and develop innovative approaches to cancer care. Oncologists contribute to medical literature through publications, presentations, and collaboration with other researchers.
  • Collaboration with Multidisciplinary Teams: Oncologists work closely with a multidisciplinary team of healthcare professionals, including surgeons, radiation oncologists, pathologists, radiologists, nurses, social workers, and supportive care specialists. They collaborate to provide comprehensive, coordinated care that addresses all aspects of the patient's physical, emotional, and psychosocial needs.

Types of Oncologists
Oncology is a diverse field with various subspecialties, each focusing on different aspects of cancer care and treatment. Here are some common types of oncologists:

  • Gynecologic Oncologist: Gynecologic oncologists specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of cancers affecting the female reproductive system, including ovarian cancer, cervical cancer, endometrial cancer, vaginal cancer, and vulvar cancer. They have expertise in performing gynecologic cancer surgeries, such as hysterectomy, oophorectomy, and lymph node dissection, as well as administering chemotherapy and other treatments.
  • Hematologist-Oncologist: Hematologist-oncologists specialize in the treatment of blood cancers and disorders, including leukemia, lymphoma, multiple myeloma, and myelodysplastic syndromes. They have expertise in diagnosing blood disorders, interpreting blood tests and bone marrow biopsies, and administering chemotherapy, targeted therapy, immunotherapy, and stem cell transplantation.
  • Medical Oncologist: Medical oncologists specialize in the treatment of cancer using chemotherapy, targeted therapy, immunotherapy, hormone therapy, and other systemic treatments. They work closely with patients to develop individualized treatment plans, monitor treatment responses, manage side effects, and coordinate care with other members of the oncology team.
  • Neuro-Oncologist: Neuro-oncologists specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of cancers affecting the brain and central nervous system. They have expertise in managing primary brain tumors, metastatic brain tumors, spinal cord tumors, and neurological complications of cancer. Neuro-oncologists work closely with neurosurgeons, radiation oncologists, and other specialists to provide comprehensive care for patients with brain cancer.
  • Pediatric Oncologist: Pediatric oncologists specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer in children and adolescents. They have expertise in managing pediatric cancers, including leukemia, lymphoma, brain tumors, sarcomas, and solid tumors. Pediatric oncologists work closely with pediatric hematologists, pediatric surgeons, and other pediatric specialists to provide comprehensive, family-centered care for young cancer patients.
  • Radiation Oncologist: Radiation oncologists specialize in the use of radiation therapy to treat cancer. They develop radiation treatment plans, deliver precise doses of radiation to target cancerous tumors, and monitor patients' responses to treatment. Radiation oncologists may use external beam radiation therapy, brachytherapy, proton therapy, or other advanced radiation techniques to destroy cancer cells while minimizing damage to surrounding healthy tissues.
  • Surgical Oncologist: Surgical oncologists specialize in the surgical treatment of cancer, including tumor removal, biopsy, and staging procedures. They have expertise in performing complex surgical procedures to remove cancerous tumors while preserving surrounding healthy tissues and organs. Surgical oncologists often collaborate with other oncology specialists, such as medical oncologists and radiation oncologists, to provide comprehensive cancer care.

Are you suited to be an oncologist?

Oncologists have distinct personalities. They tend to be enterprising individuals, which means they’re adventurous, ambitious, assertive, extroverted, energetic, enthusiastic, confident, and optimistic. They are dominant, persuasive, and motivational. Some of them are also artistic, meaning they’re creative, intuitive, sensitive, articulate, and expressive.

Does this sound like you? Take our free career test to find out if oncologist is one of your top career matches.

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What is the workplace of an Oncologist like?

Oncologists may work in a variety of environments, including hospitals, academic medical centers, cancer centers, private practices, and multispecialty group practices. Here's a glimpse into what the workplace of an oncologist may entail:

In hospital settings, oncologists often work in specialized oncology departments or cancer centers, where they provide inpatient and outpatient care for cancer patients. They may collaborate with other healthcare professionals, including surgeons, radiation oncologists, nurses, social workers, and supportive care specialists, to deliver comprehensive cancer care. Hospital-based oncologists may have access to advanced diagnostic and treatment technologies, including imaging facilities, radiation therapy equipment, and infusion centers, to provide state-of-the-art care for their patients.

Academic medical centers offer oncologists the opportunity to combine patient care with teaching, research, and academic pursuits. Oncologists in academic settings may hold faculty positions at medical schools or universities, where they teach medical students, residents, and fellows, and contribute to medical research and scholarly activities. They may participate in clinical trials, conduct research studies, and publish scientific papers to advance knowledge in the field of oncology and improve cancer treatment outcomes.

In private practice or group practice settings, oncologists may have their own office or share facilities with other healthcare providers. They see patients for consultations, follow-up visits, and treatment sessions, and may perform procedures such as chemotherapy administration, infusion therapy, and symptom management. Private practice oncologists have the flexibility to tailor their practice to their patients' needs and preferences, and may collaborate with other specialists and healthcare providers in the community to provide coordinated cancer care.

Frequently Asked Questions

Doctor Specializations and Degrees

The following is a comprehensive list of the various specializations that a doctor can pursue and a brief summary of each specialization:

  • Allergist: An allergist specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of allergies, asthma, and related conditions. Allergists have specialized training in the recognition and management of allergic reactions.
  • Anesthesiologist: An anesthesiologist keeps a patient comfortable, safe and pain-free during surgery by administering local or general anesthetic.
  • Cardiologist: A cardiologist specializes in finding, treating, and preventing diseases that affect the heart, the arteries, and the veins.
  • Cardiothoracic Surgeon: A cardiothoracic surgeon specializes in surgical procedures inside the thorax (the chest), which may involve the heart, lungs, esophagus, and other organs in the chest. As well as performing surgery, they also diagnose and treat diseases of these organs.
  • Chiropractic Neurologist: A chiropractic neurologist is a specialized type of chiropractor who has undergone additional training in the field of neurology. They diagnose and treat conditions that affect the brain, spinal cord, and other parts of the nervous system.
  • Chiropractor: A chiropractor, or doctor of chiropractic medicine, specializes in diagnosing and treating disorders of the musculoskeletal and nervous system, especially in the spine. Treatment is usually physical manipulation of the joints and the spine to bring them back into alignment. A chiropractor does not perform surgery or prescribe medication.
  • Colorectal Surgeon: A colorectal surgeon specializes in diseases of the colon, rectum, and anus, as well as the entire gastric tract. These surgeons work closely with urologists, who handle the urogenital tract in males and the urinary tract of women, gynecologists, who deal with specific female issues, and gastroenterologists, who deal with diseases of the gut.
  • Doctor: An general overview of what a doctor does and how to become one.
  • Dentist: Dentists identify potential oral health issues such as gum disease, as well as examine patients, order medical tests and determine the correct diagnosis and treatment. They also perform oral surgery and remove teeth or address other dental health problems.
  • Dermatologist: A dermatologist specializes in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of conditions affecting skin, hair, sweat and oil glands, nails, and mucus membranes (inside the mouth, nose, and eyelids) which can include cancer.
  • Emergency Medicine Physician: An emergency medicine physician works in emergency departments, hospitals, and urgent care clinics, and is often the first medical professional that patients see when they are in need of urgent medical care.
  • Endocrinologist: An endocrinologist specializes in diagnosing conditions and diseases related to the glands and hormones. While primary care doctors know a lot about the human body, for conditions and diseases directly related to glands and hormones they will typically send a patient to an endocrinologist.
  • Family Practitioner: A family practitioner specializes in caring for the entire family. Patients can be children, adults, and the elderly, and are treated for a wide array of medical issues.
  • Forensic Pathologist: A forensic pathologist investigates the cause of sudden and unexpected deaths, and is able to determine how a person died by performing an autopsy and studying tissue and laboratory results. These doctors are often called upon to provide evidence in court regarding the cause and time of such deaths.
  • Gastroenterologist: A gastroenterologist has specific training in diagnosing and treating conditions and diseases of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. This may include diseases and disorders that affect the the biliary system (liver, pancreas, gallbladder, and bile ducts), as well as the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, and large intestine (colon).
  • Geriatrician: A geriatrician specializes in the care of elderly patients, and often works with patients who have multiple chronic conditions, such as hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease, as well as age-related cognitive and functional impairments.
  • Gynecologist: A gynecologist specializes in women's reproductive systems. Gynecologists are also sometimes certified as obstetricians, and will monitor the health of the mother and the fetus during a pregnancy.
  • Hematologist: A doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of blood disorders, such as anemia and leukemia.
  • Hospitalist: A hospitalist is a physician whose focus is the general medical care of hospitalized patients. Their duties include patient care, teaching, research, and leadership related to hospital medicine.
  • Immunologist: An immunologist specializes in managing problems related to the immune system, such as allergies and autoimmune diseases. A smaller number of immunologists are strictly researchers seeking to better understand how the immune system works and to help develop better ways of diagnosing and providing treatment for many immunological conditions.
  • Infectious Disease Specialist: A doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of infectious diseases, such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and hepatitis.
  • Internist: An internist is a 'doctor of internal medicine' who can diagnose, treat, and practice compassionate care for adults across the spectrum, from health to complex illness. They are not to be mistaken with "interns," who are doctors in their first year of residency training.
  • Medical Examiner: Medical examiners are responsible for performing autopsies and collecting evidence related to the circumstances of a death, including medical history, physical examination findings, and toxicology tests.
  • Naturopathic Physician: A naturopathic physician blends modern scientific medical practice and knowledge with natural and traditional forms of medical treatment. The goal is to treat the underlying causes of disease while stimulating the body's own healing abilities.
  • Nephrologist: A doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of kidney diseases. They treat conditions such as chronic kidney disease, acute kidney injury, kidney stones, hypertension, and electrolyte imbalances.
  • Neurologist: A neurologist specializes in treating diseases that affect the human nervous system. It is a very prestigious and difficult medical specialty due to the complexity of the nervous system, which consists of the brain, the spinal cord and the peripheral nerves.
  • Neurosurgeon: A neurosurgeon specializes in the diagnosis and surgical treatment of disorders of the central and peripheral nervous system. This includes congenital anomalies, trauma, tumours, vascular disorders, infections of the brain or spine, stroke, or degenerative diseases of the spine.
  • Obstetrician: An obstetrician is a medical doctor who specializes in caring for women during pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum period.
  • Occupational Physician: Occupational medicine is focused on keeping individuals well at work, both mentally and physically. As workplaces become more complex, occupational physicians play an important role in advising people on how their work can affect their health.
  • Oncologist: An oncologist specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. The three primary types of oncologists are: medical oncologists that specialize in the administration of drugs to kill cancer cells; surgical oncologists that perform surgical procedures to identify and remove cancerous tumors; and radiation oncologists that treat cancer with radiation therapy.
  • Ophthalmologist: An ophthalmologist is a specialist that deals specifically with the structure, function, diseases, and treatment of the eye. Due to the complexities and the importance of the eye as a special sense that provides vision, the discipline of ophthalmology is dedicated solely to this organ.
  • Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon: An oral and maxillofacial surgeon treats dental and medical problems involving the oral cavity and the maxillofacial area. The maxillofacial area includes the bones of the forehead, face, cheekbones and the soft tissues. Treatment often involves performing surgery and related procedures to treat diseases, defects, or injuries, and to improve function or appearance.
  • Orthodontist: An orthodontist specializes in how the jaws and teeth are aligned. They help people whose teeth are misaligned or require some kind of correction – those with an improper bite, or malocclusion.
  • Orthopedic Surgeon / Orthopedist: An orthopaedic surgeon (or orthopedist) examines, diagnoses, and treats diseases and injuries of the musculoskeletal system. This system includes the bones, joints, ligaments, muscles, tendons, and nerves.
  • Osteopath: Osteopaths have attended and graduated from an osteopathic medical school and practise the system of healthcare known as osteopathy. They consider all aspects of the patient, not just the symptoms they exhibit. They see the integrated nature of the body’s organ systems and its capacity for self-regulation and self-healing.
  • Otolaryngologist: Otolaryngologists (or ENT physicians) are specialists trained in the diagnosis and treatment of patients with diseases and disorders of the ear, nose, throat (ENT), and related structures of the head and neck. These specialists are trained in both medicine and surgery.
  • Pathologist: A pathologist studies the causes, nature, and effects of disease. The field of pathology is broad with concentrations on changes in cells, tissues, and organs that are the result of a disease.
  • Pediatrician: A pediatrician specializes in providing medical care to infants, children and teenagers by administering treatments, therapies, medications and vaccinations to treat illness, disorders or injuries.
  • Periodontist: A periodontist is a dentist who specializes in oral inflammation, and who knows how to prevent, diagnose, and treat periodontal disease.
  • Plastic Surgeon: A plastic surgeon specializes in reshaping healthy body parts for aesthetic reasons, and also in repairing or replacing body parts damaged by accidents, illness or malformation.
  • Podiatrist: A podiatrist practices podiatric medicine, which is a branch of science devoted to the diagnosis, treatment and study of medical disorders of the foot, ankle, lower leg and lower back. In the U.S. and Canada, podiatry is practiced as a specialty.
  • Prosthodontist: A prosthodontist specializes in restoring the look, function, comfort, and health of a patient's oral cavity with artificial materials. These artificial materials are made up of a wide variety of restorations that include fillings, dentures, veneers, crowns, bridges and oral implants.
  • Psychiatrist: Psychiatrists are physicians who evaluate, diagnose and treat patients who are affected by a temporary or chronic mental health problem.
  • Pulmonologist: A pulmonologist specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of pulmonary (lung) conditions and diseases of the chest, particularly pneumonia, asthma, tuberculosis, emphysema, and complicated chest infections.
  • Radiologist: A radiologist is a specialist in interpreting medical images that may be obtained with x-rays, (CT scans or radiographs), nuclear medicine (involving radioactive substances, magnetism (MRI), or ultrasound.
  • Rheumatologist: A doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of rheumatic diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.
  • Sports Medicine Physician: A sports medicine physician specializes in taking care of people who have sports injuries that may be acquired from playing sports, exercising, or from otherwise being physically active.
  • Surgeon: A surgeon performs surgery for the purpose of removing diseased tissue or organs, to repair body systems, or to replace diseased organs with transplants.
  • Telemedicine Physician: A telemedicine physician provides remote healthcare services to patients using telecommunications technology, facilitating virtual consultations, diagnoses, and treatment recommendations.
  • Urologist: A urologist specializes in the treatment of the male and female urinary tract and the male reproductive organs. Urologists can treat the kidneys, urinary bladder, urethra, uterus, and male reproductive organs. There are also specific specialty areas that urologists may choose to focus on, such as pediatric urology, male infertility, and urologic oncology.
  • Vascular Medicine Specialist - A vascular medicine specialist specializes in the diagnosis and nonsurgical treatment of conditions affecting the blood vessels. They may work with patients who have conditions such as deep vein thrombosis, peripheral artery disease, or pulmonary embolism.
  • Vascular Surgeon - A vascular surgeon specializes in the diagnosis and surgical treatment of conditions affecting the blood vessels, including aneurysms, peripheral artery disease, and varicose veins.
  • Veterinary Dentist - A veterinary dentist is a specialized veterinarian who focuses on the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of dental diseases and conditions in animals. They perform dental procedures such as cleanings, extractions, and oral surgeries to improve the oral health and well-being of pets and other animals.


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See Also
Doctor Allergist Anesthesiologist Cardiologist Cardiothoracic Surgeon Chiropractor Colorectal Surgeon Dentist Dermatologist Emergency Medicine Physician Endocrinologist Family Practitioner Forensic Pathologist Gastroenterologist Geriatrician Gynecologist Hematologist Hospitalist Immunologist Infectious Disease Specialist Internist Medical Examiner Naturopathic Physician Nephrologist Neurologist Neurosurgeon Obstetrician Occupational Physician Ophthalmologist Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon Orthopedic Surgeon Orthopedist Orthodontist Osteopath Otolaryngologist Pathologist Pediatrician Periodontist Plastic Surgeon Podiatrist Prosthodontist Psychiatrist Pulmonologist Radiologist Rheumatologist Sports Medicine Physician Surgeon Urologist Vascular Medicine Specialist Vascular Surgeon Chiropractic Neurologist Veterinary Dentist Telemedicine Physician

Pros and Cons of Being an Oncologist

Becoming an oncologist offers numerous benefits and challenges. Here are some pros and cons to consider:


  • Making a Meaningful Impact: Oncologists have the opportunity to make a profound difference in the lives of cancer patients and their families by providing compassionate care, support, and hope during a challenging time. Helping patients navigate their cancer journey, managing symptoms, and providing treatments that can potentially extend or improve quality of life can be deeply rewarding.
  • Intellectual Stimulation: Oncology is a dynamic and rapidly evolving field with ongoing advancements in cancer research, diagnostic techniques, and treatment modalities. Oncologists have the opportunity to stay at the forefront of medical innovation, contribute to scientific discoveries, and apply evidence-based practices to improve patient outcomes.
  • Professional Fulfillment: For many oncologists, the sense of professional fulfillment derived from helping patients overcome cancer, achieve remission, or maintain a good quality of life despite their diagnosis is one of the most rewarding aspects of the job. Building long-term relationships with patients and their families and being part of their journey toward healing and survivorship can be emotionally gratifying.
  • Variety of Practice Settings: Oncologists have the flexibility to work in a variety of practice settings, including hospitals, academic medical centers, cancer centers, private practices, and multispecialty group practices. Each practice setting offers unique opportunities for professional growth, collaboration, and patient care, allowing oncologists to tailor their career to their interests and preferences.


  • Emotional Toll: Dealing with serious illness, end-of-life discussions, and the emotional burden of caring for patients with cancer can take a toll on oncologists' mental and emotional well-being. Witnessing the suffering and loss experienced by patients and families, as well as the challenges of delivering difficult news and managing treatment-related side effects, can be emotionally challenging.
  • High Stress and Workload: Oncology is a demanding and high-stress specialty that requires oncologists to manage complex cases, make critical decisions, and juggle multiple responsibilities simultaneously. The workload can be intense, with long hours, on-call duties, and a fast-paced clinical environment, leading to burnout and fatigue if not managed effectively.
  • Challenges in Patient Care: Oncologists often face challenges in delivering optimal cancer care, including limited treatment options for certain cancer types, difficult-to-manage symptoms, treatment-related toxicities, and financial constraints that may impact patients' access to care. Balancing the desire to provide aggressive treatment with the need to maintain patients' quality of life can be ethically and emotionally challenging.
  • Rapidly Evolving Field: While the rapid pace of advancement in oncology brings exciting opportunities for improving patient outcomes, it also presents challenges in keeping up with the latest research findings, treatment guidelines, and technological advancements. Oncologists must invest time and effort in continuing medical education, professional development, and staying abreast of emerging trends to provide high-quality, evidence-based care to their patients.

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Oncologists are also known as:
Oncology Physician Cancer Doctor