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What Is Clinical Oncology?

A clinical oncologist may administer radiotherapy with a linear accelerator.
A clinical oncologist may order radiation treatment for cancer patients to prevent the spread of a particular cancer.
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  • Written By: Carol Francois
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 19 November 2014
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Clinical oncology is a specialist discipline within radiology. The primary role of the clinical oncologist is the completion of the radiation treatment for cancer patients. Radiation is used to kill the cancer cells within the body. The extent of treatment depends on the type of cancer, degree of progression, and the timing of the diagnosis. Typically, cancer patients who have late stage cancer are not ideal candidates for radiation therapy.

There are four primary tasks to be completed in clinical oncology: review the patient file with the oncologist, set the radiation treatment schedule, treat the patient, and monitor the response of the client. Clinical oncologists are focused on providing radiation therapy, in keeping with the overall treatment plan. They are licensed radiologists, and not doctors.

It is important to note that the term clinical oncologist is used interchangeably with medical oncologist in North America. In the United Kingdom and former colonies, an oncologist is either clinical or medical. Clinical oncologists provide radiotherapy and medical oncologists are focused on managing the overall treatment program for the patient.

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The treatment model for cancer patients typically involves specialists from a broad range of medical disciplines. This holistic approach has been found to be most effective for cancer patients, but can result in confusion at the beginning of the process, as it is hard to identify who is in charge. These health services professional teams typically meet once a week to review patient progress, steps taken, issues, concerns, and progress. Any changes to the treatment plan are communicated at this time. Clinical oncology specialists work closely with other members of the team, and provide the radiation treatment prescribed by the lead oncologist.

When the treatment frequency is set, a member of the clinical oncology department meets with the patient to discuss the logistics and preparation steps required to complete the treatment plan. This may include dietary restrictions, recommended vitamins, and other steps designed to increase patient comfort. Many patients coordinate their treatment with other hospital visits, and may arrange for transportation through the local cancer charity.

Upon arrival, the clinical oncologist ensures that the preparation routine is completed, and then completes the radiation treatment. The process is painless, but side effects can cause physical pain or discomfort. It is often recommended that patients arrange for transportation to and from treatments, as they can be quite draining.

Regular appointments and tests are conducted to evaluate the success of the treatment plan. The oncologist typically has an ideal progression plan, and the actual progress is compared against this value. Any changes to the patient’s condition are reported back to the team, which discusses the options available to increase the patient’s health.

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