Medical oncologists specialize in medications such as chemotherapy, hormones and pain relievers to treat cancer. Your medical oncologist is the doctor who coordinates and oversees medical care for most types of cancer. Usually you meet your oncologist when you are diagnosed with cancer, work closely together through the course of the disease, and see each other occasionally when you are a cancer survivor.
Your medical oncologist:
- Educates you about the form of your cancer and the stages of its development
- Discusses treatment options and makes recommendations regarding treatment
- Monitors your care and treatment throughout the course of your cancer
- Works with you to improve quality of life through healing therapy and management of pain and symptoms
Chemotherapy uses drugs that kill rapidly-dividing cells. Cancer cells divide rapidly, but so do cells in hair follicles, the digestive system and bone marrow. So chemotherapy kills cancer cells, while also causing hair loss, and sometimes nausea and anemia. Medications can counter some of the side effects of chemotherapy.
Hormonal therapy blocks, removes or adds hormones to the body in order to interfere with cancer growth. For example, some breast cancers use estrogen to grow, and prostate cancer fuels on testosterone. Hormonal therapy for those cancers stops the production of estrogen and testosterone. But progesterone interferes with those cancers, so doctors may add more progesterone during hormonal therapy.
Biological therapy uses living organisms – or drugs made from living organisms – to treat cancer. Some types of biological therapy directly target cancer cells. Other types spur the immune system to attack cancer cells. Because biological therapy is derived from living organisms, side effects can include allergic reactions.
Targeted therapy uses drugs that interfere with specific molecules a cancer needs to grow and spread. Some targeted therapies interfere with a tumor’s ability to grow blood vessels and spread. Others stimulate the immune system to attack specific cancer cells. Additional therapies deliver highly toxic drugs directly to cancer cells, bypassing healthy cells.
National Cancer Institute: Medical Oncologist