Doctoral Programs in Oncology: Degree Program Overviews

A doctoral degree in oncology does not exist, but students seeking advanced education in oncology can obtain a Doctor of Philosophy in Cancer Biology or can attend a residency program in radiological oncology upon graduation from medical school.

Essential Information

Although a doctoral degree in oncology does not exist, students interested in clinical research might opt for a doctoral program in cancer biology, while students interested in working with cancer patients from a medical standpoint might opt for medical school and a residency program in radiological oncology. Any doctoral program requires a master's degree; these programs may also require professional experience or specific course prerequisites.

  • Prerequisites: Master's degree in biology or a closely related field for the doctoral program; bachelor's degree for medical school, professional experience may be required for either program
  • Other Requirements: A dissertation is required for the doctoral program
  • Program Length: Approximately two years for a master's, 3-5 years for a doctorate, 4 years for medical school plus 3 years of residency

Doctor of Philosophy in Cancer Biology

Although no doctoral programs in oncology exist, students interested in cancer research can earn a Doctor of Philosophy in Cancer Biology. Programs focus on training experimental clinical scientists in researching the causes and potential cures for various cancers. Clinical scientists work with licensed medical doctors in making treatments applicable for patient utilization. Programs foster analytical thinking and problem solving abilities while allowing for creative, forward-thinking research.

Cancer biology programs require the completion of a dissertation paper. Students attend professional networking conferences, participate in student organizations, conduct independent research projects and attend informative lectures covering the following topics:

  • Research methods
  • Medical advances in oncology
  • Genetics and cancer
  • Immunology
  • Current oncological practices

Residency Programs in Radiological Oncology

Another option for students interested in advanced education in oncology is a radiological oncology residency program. Residency programs are intended for doctors in training. Programs stress active participation in the practice of radiological oncology in a hospital setting. While students do engage in clinical research, the focus of a residency program is patient care.

Residents are graduates of an accredited medical school program who are interested in pursuing a specialization in radiation oncology. Students must have completed four years of undergraduate education, usually majoring in biology or chemistry, as well as four years of medical school.

In lieu of structured courses, residents actively participate in rounds and a specified set of rotations as outlined by the college or university. Students perform extensive clinical research and attend informational conferences and clinical seminars. Some programs may require residents to lead a conference seminar. Typical rotation areas include:

  • Medical oncology
  • Oncological pathology
  • Diagnostic imaging
  • Radiological biology

Popular Career Options

Graduates of a doctoral program in cancer biology often gravitate towards positions in cancer laboratory research or academia. While a doctoral degree may not be essential to some research positions, individuals looking to teach at the college or university level will find it a valuable asset. Some popular careers include:

  • Independent researcher
  • Professor
  • Technical writer

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

Due to the overall growth of the healthcare industry, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted an 18% increase in jobs for physicians and surgeons from 2012-2022. According to the BLS, the average annual salary of physicians and surgeons, including oncologists, was $189,760 in May of 2014.

Continuing Education

Although a doctoral degree is the most advanced degree awarded in cancer biology, students can obtain other master's, doctoral or medical degrees. Advanced degrees often allow for a greater number of job opportunities and the potential for a higher base salary.

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