Oncology, at its most basic level, involves the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. The word oncology comes from the Greek word meaning "mass" or "bulk," referring to tumors. A doctor who specializes in oncology is called an oncologist.
Oncology involves a huge range of study. Since cancer can occur in so many of the body's systems, many doctors choose to specialize in a particular branch of it, such as bone cancer or blood diseases. Some doctors specialize in chemotherapy treatments, while others focus on radiation therapy. Most doctors who specialize in oncology serve internships and residencies that focus on cancer treatment, usually in their preferred branch of therapy. A specialist often serves about four years beyond the normal residency period.
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Oncology also involves research into cancer, its causes and possible cures. This is also a wide-open field for scientists interested in a variety of research opportunities. Some facilities, such as St. Jude's Children's Hospital, in Memphis, Tennessee, is primarily a research institution. Oncology researchers continue to look for ways to treat even the rarest forms of cancer in humans.
Oncology has come a long way since early surgeons were able only to excise tumors with the most primitive means. It has leaped forward even in the past 25 years or so, with huge improvements in prevention, diagnosis and treatment. Doctors agree that early detection, if not prevention, is the best way to deal with cancer, and oncology also covers this facet of medicine. From this philosophy, tests like the Prostate-Specific Antigen panel have come into being. This test alone has saved countless men through early detection of prostate cancer or pre-cancerous conditions. Other exams, such as mammograms, represent huge strides in the early detection and treatment of breast cancer, while the Pap smear assists in early diagnosis of cervical cancer.
Oncology is an ever-broadening field with failures, it is true, but also with spectacular successes.