Oncology is the field of medicine that treats cancer. Physicians can specialize in oncology, and a radiation specialist also works in this field. Education requirements vary, depending on the job.
Physicians and radiation therapists are among the medical professionals working in the field of oncology, which is the study and treatment of cancer. These workers often earn oncology-related certifications from a number of different specialty medical boards or professional associations.
|Education||undergraduate & medical school||Associate degree|
|Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)||14% for all physicians and surgeons*||14% increase*|
|Median Salary (2015)||$187,200 or higher for all physicians and surgeons*||$80,220*|
|Specializations||radiation; medical; gynecological; pediatric oncology; surgical|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
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Oncology Career and Certification Overview
Oncology is the medical specialty dealing with the diagnosis and treatment of tumors and cancer. Medical oncology teams include radiation therapists and physicians.
Radiation Therapists Career Information
Radiation therapists use imaging machines to locate tumors. They also operate linear accelerators, which beam X-rays targeted at a patient's cancer cells. Additional responsibilities include helping physicians develop treatment plans, monitoring patients during treatment and maintaining records.
The American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) offers certification for individuals working in radiation therapy. Individuals must complete a radiation therapy program accredited by the Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology. During the education program, radiation therapists must demonstrate clinical competency for a program director.
Besides meeting education requirements, certification candidates must meet AART ethical standards and pass an exam. Radiation therapists must register with the ARRT annually and complete 24 continuing education credits biennially to maintain their certification.
Oncology Physician Career Information
Oncology physicians, or oncologists, specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of patients with cancer. Specialties and subspecialties are based either on the type of cancer or the method of treatment. For example, internal medicine physicians specializing in medical oncology treat or manage cancer in the vascular system, heart, lungs and kidneys.
Other specialties include gynecologic oncologists, who specialize in treating the female reproductive system, and pediatric hematology-oncology physicians, who focus on children with cancer in the spleen, lymph nodes and bone marrow. Radiation oncologists prescribe radiation therapy and surgical oncologists operate to physically remove cancer from a patient.
In general, oncology physicians first complete up to eight years of undergraduate and medical school education to earn either a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) degree. They then must pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination or the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Exam before pursuing training in an oncology specialty or subspecialty. Certification varies by specialty area.
Radiation Oncology Certification Information
The American Board of Radiology offers this certification. Physicians must complete a 1-year residency in internal medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics, family practice or general surgery. They then complete a 4-year radiation oncology residency to be eligible to test for certification. Certification candidates must pass a clinical and oral exam.
Medical Oncology Certification Information
The American Board of Internal Medicine offers certification in medical oncology. Physicians must first earn their general specialty certification by completing a 3-year general internal medicine residency, demonstrating clinical competency for their program director and passing the certification examination. Physicians must then complete a 2-year medical oncology fellowship, demonstrate clinical competency and pass the medical oncology certification examination to receive subspecialty certification.
Gynecologic Oncology Certification Information
The American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology offers this certification. Physicians must complete a 4-year general residency and pass both a written and oral examination to earn initial certification. They can then complete a 3-year gynecologic oncology residency. Subspecialty certification requires qualifying scores on another set of written and oral examinations.
Pediatric Hematology-Oncology Certification Information
The American Board of Pediatrics offers certification for these specialists. Physicians must complete a 3-year residency and pass the written examination to earn the general pediatrics certification. They must then complete a 3-year hematology-oncology fellowship to be eligible to test for subspecialty certification.
Complex General Surgical Oncology Certification Information
The American Board of Surgery offers this certification. Physicians must complete a 5-year general surgery residency, after which they must pass qualifying and certifying examination in general surgery. Physicians must then complete an additional two years of surgical oncology training and pass an additional test to earn subspecialty certification.
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that employment among radiation therapists will see 14% growth from 2014-2024 and 14% growth among physicians and surgeons. As of 2015, the median salary among all surgeons and physicians was $187,200 or higher and $80,220 for radiation therapists, according to the BLS.
Physicians who specialize in oncology first complete medical school and residency, and then have the option to pursue even further specialization. Radiation therapists must complete an an accredited degree program to learn to use machines to administer radiation therapy and qualify for the national certification exam. Jobs in oncology are growing at a faster than average rate for all occupations.