Who is a radiation oncologist?
A radiation oncologist is a medical specialist who has specific postgraduate training in management of patients with cancer, in particular, involving the use of radiation therapy (also called radiotherapy) as one aspect of their cancer treatment. They also have expertise in the treatment of non-malignant conditions with radiation therapy. Radiation oncologists work closely with other medical specialists, especially surgeons, medical oncologists and palliative care physicians, as part of a multidisciplinary team caring for patients with cancer.
What does a radiation oncologist do?
Most patients have a diagnosis of cancer prior to referral to a radiation oncologist. The radiation oncologist is responsible for assessing the patient by clinical evaluation, and organising imaging and other tests, in order to establish a management plan for an individual. Often, this is done in conjunction with other members of the team (both medical and non-medical). Radiation oncologists are an integral part of the initial and ongoing management process, and have an important role in communicating with patients, their family members and other carers in relation to all aspects of the management of the patient’s disease and overall care. In particular, they are the experts managing the detail of the radiation therapy component of treatment. They work closely with medical physicists and radiation therapists to plan and deliver effective radiation treatment.
Radiation oncologists have overall responsibly for determining and prescribing the most suitable dose of radiation (from high energy X-rays, electron beams or gamma rays) to deliver in a particular case, and the method and technique by which this will be achieved. They have skills and knowledge that enable the many relevant clinical, biological and pathological factors to be merged into an individual recommendation regarding a course of radiation treatment. The application of their clinical and technical expertise aims at optimising the benefit of radiation therapy for their patients, whether the goal be cure of cancer or alleviation of symptoms e.g. pain. Consideration of the patient’s social situation, their beliefs and wishes, and the impact of any treatments on quality of life of a person is a critical part of decision-making.
Many radiation oncologists work in hospital cancer departments or in larger cancer treatment centres. Many also do clinical research, asking their patients if they wish to enter clinical trials and some also do laboratory research. Most radiation oncologists are also involved with teaching – both medical students and especially trainees training on-the-job in the specialty.