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Types of Cancer Doctors: Career Overview by Specialization

Oncology, the study of cancer, is a medical specialization that can be the focus of residencies and fellowships. Continue reading for an overview of the programs, as well as career and salary info for some career options for graduates.

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Essential Information

Cancer doctors, otherwise known as oncologists, diagnose and treat cancer patients. They also might research the causes of, treatments for and prevention of cancer. After undergoing four years of medical school, oncologists complete residencies that can last 2-6 years. To specialize, they must then pursue a fellowship in a particular area of oncology, followed by earning board certification. Some specializations include medical, pediatric, radiation and gynecologic oncology.

Career TitlesMedical Oncologist Pediatric OncologistRadiation OncologistGynecologic Oncologist
Required Education M.D. M.D. M.D. M.D.
Other Requirements Residency and fellowship Residency and fellowship Residency and fellowship Residency and fellowship
Licensure and Certification Licensure required in all states; certification from the American Board of Internal Medicine recommended Licensure required in all states; certification from the American Board of Pediatrics recommended Licensure required in all states; certification from the American Board of Radiology recommended Licensure required in all states; certification from the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommended
Job Growth (2012-2022)* 18% for all physicians and surgeons18% for all physicians and surgeons18% for all physicians and surgeons18% for all physicians and surgeons
Median Salary (2014)** $217,856 for all oncologists $217,856 for all oncologists$303,870 for radiation oncologists$217,856 for all oncologists

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **

Career Options

Specialized cancer doctors may focus on treating cancer within a certain population, such as pediatric or geriatric patients, or on treating a certain type of cancer. Explore some specialization options in detail below.

Medical Oncologist

Considered a subspecialty of internal medicine, medical oncology covers the treatment of all types of cancerous tumors. Medical oncologists provide care for hospitalized patients, as well as outpatients, and they use a variety of treatments for cancer, such as chemotherapy, analgesics and gene therapy. They assist patients in choosing treatment options while monitoring their recovery. Some medical oncologists participate in cancer research and train students and residents in hospital settings. The American Board of Internal Medicine offers board certification in the specialty area of medical oncology.

Pediatric Oncologist

Pediatric oncologists specialize in cancers that affect children. Cancer doctors who care for children are knowledgeable about managing childhood cancers through the use of chemotherapy, radiation and other treatments. They must be particularly aware of how certain treatments can affect a growing person. Pediatric oncologists may become board certified in pediatric hematology-oncology through the American Board of Pediatrics.

Radiation Oncologist

Many cancers and certain non-cancerous conditions get treated with radiation therapy. Radiation oncologists determine whether radiation is appropriate for a patient, and, if so, they manage the side effects that may result from radiation therapy. In addition to training in general oncology, they may explore the treatment of a number of kinds of tumors, such as lymphoma and tumors of the head and neck, breast, gastrointestinal tract and thorax. The American Board of Radiology administers board certification in radiation oncology.

Gynecologic Oncologist

Specialists in cancers of the female reproductive system, gynecologic oncologists may treat cancers of the uterus, ovaries, endometrium, cervix, fallopian tubes, vagina and vulva. Gynecologic oncologists can use chemotherapy and radiation treatments, but they're also skilled at cancer surgery, including reconstructive surgery following tumor removal. Through the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology, board-certified obstetrician-gynecologists may acquire additional certification in the subspecialty of gynecologic oncology.

Career and Salary Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicted a faster-than-average rate of job growth of 18% for all physicians and surgeons for the 2012-2022 decade ( cited a median salary for oncologists of $217,856 in 2014. Radiation oncologists were reported to earn a median salary of $303,870 at that same time.

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