Oncologists in the UK – An Overview

17 Feb 2022 Anne Marie Fogarty

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Cancer is a word that fills people with dread and is one which we never want to hear, yet unfortunately, here in the UK, it is estimated that 1 in 2 people will suffer from some form of cancer in their lifetimes.


As morbid as that sounds, there is some promising news in that survival rates for cancer in the UK, and indeed, in many other parts of the world too for that matter, are now higher than ever before. Basically, this means that more people are being diagnosed with cancer and making a full recovery than ever before, which is thanks to the wonderful cancer specialists we have here.

The UK is blessed in that we have the NHS, which, despite the hurdles it must overcome, namely in the lack of funding from the government, and the lack of support, is still one of the best healthcare systems in the world.

Despite being stretched, our cancer specialists (oncologists) are still outstanding in their field, and if you’d like to make a difference and help people affected by cancer, you’ve plenty of options in terms of what to study.

Here is a brief overview of the different types of oncologists we have in this country.

First off, what is an oncologist?

An oncologist is a medical professional that specialises in cancer. Oncology is the specialised branch of medicine that specialises in the different types of cancer, including:

  • diagnosis
  • treatment
  • support
  • research

Because there are so many different types of cancer out there, and because it is such a complex disease, cancer requires its own special team of experts in the form of oncologists.

Cancer is such a broad disease, so different cancer types require different specialists. Despite each oncologist’s role being different, there is generally some common ground regardless of which field of cancer they specialise in, including:

  • Explaining to the patient all about the type of cancer they have been diagnosed with, including the stage.
  • Determining the best course of action and treatment for the patient.
  • Offering reassurance, insights, care, compassion, and advice to the patient.
  • Prescribing medications.
  • Offering help and advice to the patient in terms of the treatments and side effects.
  • Helping patients adjust to a new quality of life following cancer recovery.
  • Ensuring that follow-ups and screenings are offered to the patient even after recovery has taken place.
  • Diagnosing certain forms of cancer.

What are the different types of oncology to study?

If you are thinking of attending medical school and wish to specialise in oncology, first, you need to decide which type of oncology you would like to study and eventually specialise in.

These include the following:

Radiation Oncologist

A radiation oncologist is a doctor who treats certain strains of cancer via radiation treatments, sometimes known as radiotherapy.

Radiation therapy exposes cancerous cells to concentrated levels of X-rays with the goal of destroying the cells, thereby killing the cancer and preventing the cancerous cells from multiplying and spreading.

Not all forms of cancer can be killed with radiation therapy, so sometimes radiation oncologists will use these X-rays to shrink cancerous tumours in size so that they can be removed or to simply stop the tumour from growing without causing any damage to the surrounding tissues. This particular treatment is known as palliative therapy, and its primary goal is to improve the cancer patient’s quality of life and, indeed, to prolong their life.

Medical Oncologist

Medical oncologists are doctors who treat various types of cancer through medications such as immunotherapy and targeted therapy, along with chemotherapy.

An oncologist is the primary care provider for the patient and will have the final say in which treatment is prescribed and which recovery steps should be taken.

Medical oncologists will often liaise with other medical departments when deciding on treatments and the best course of action for the patient’s recovery. They are also responsible for follow-ups and checkups on the patient after they’ve undergone their treatment.

Surgical Oncologist

A surgical oncologist is a surgeon who specialises in performing surgical procedures relating to cancer diagnosis, treatment, and recovery.

Typically, surgical oncologists will specialise in the surgical removal of cancerous tumours. Think of them as general surgeons who have received additional training and education in oncology and other cancer-related surgical procedures.

As well as removing cancerous tumours, surgical oncologists will also remove tissues and perform biopsies to determine whether cancer is present and, if so, what kind.

Other types of oncology

The above three are arguably the most common here in the UK, but that doesn’t mean that they’re the only three. There are also many other sub-specialities of oncology, including:

  • Neuro-oncology, which specialises in cancers relating to the nerves, brain, and spinal column.
  • Gynaecologic oncology, which specialises in cancers relating to the female reproductive system.
  • Paediatric oncology, which specialises in cancer treatment in children.
  • Haematology oncology which specialises in blood-related cancers such as leukaemia and lymphoma.

In conclusion, oncology is a wide varied career where there is great potential to care for and to support cancer patients at a very challenging time in their lives. You can make a real difference as a cancer specialist no matter what field you choose.

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