Oncologists are doctors who study, diagnose, and treat cancerous tumors. There are specializations within oncology that can be based on the type or location of the cancer treated, or the patient’s age. The subspecialties of oncology include:
- Gynecological oncology;
- Medical oncology;
- Pediatric oncology;
- Radiation oncology; and
- Surgical oncology.
To become an oncologist a doctor needs to complete two to three years of residency in internal medicine then a one to two year residence or fellowship in oncology after medical school. In the United States there are about 3,500 active oncologists.
Oncologists perform various aspects of cancer care, including locating the cancer and forming a plan of care to shrink or remove the cancer if it is possible. These doctors use patient history, physician examination, biopsy, chemotherapy, radio-ablation, diagnostic studies, radiation, and surgery to diagnose and treat patients. However, there are times where an oncologist may fail to order the appropriate tests, fails to interpret a study ordered properly, or fails to appropriately diagnose or treat. In these cases, the oncologist may be liable to medical malpractice.
Major consideration has to be given to whether the cancer is treatable. Oncologists also need to determine whether treatment would alter the disease’s natural course. There may also be a delay in diagnosis that would alter the way treatment is approached. There are times where certain malignancies that are diagnosed later in the course of a specific cancer which require a more aggressive form of treatment.
Common oncology errors include:
- Chemotherapy drug errors;
- Failure to diagnose cancer;
- Failure to obtain clean margins;
- Failure to perform comprehensive cancer surgery; and
- Misdiagnosis of cancer.
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