Oncology Definition

Posted on April 15, 2015 in Oncology

Written by Dr. Warlick

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oncologist and nurse with patient

Oncology Definition: Overview

If you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, chances are you’ve visited a doctor who specializes in oncology (otherwise known as an oncologist). Oncology is an umbrella term used to describe all branches of medicine that deal with the diagnosis, treatment, and overall care of cancer patients, as well as research into how cancer develops and what we can do to help prevent, treat, and cure it.

The practice of oncology can be broken down into several primary areas that cover each of the various steps in the process of cancer care.

Oncology definition: Pathology/Diagnosis

In medical terminology, pathology refers to the causes and effects of a disease. Diagnosis refers to the identification of an illness, including the type of illness and the severity of the illness.

In the context of cancer care, the two terms are related. They describe the steps by which cancer is identified in a patient, the methods used to figure out the type and severity of the cancer, and the testing procedures that help confirm the diagnosis, including CAT scans, MRIs, biopsies, blood tests, and others.

Cancer can occur in many different forms and locations in the body, and, depending on the type and stage of cancer, may cause a very wide variety of symptoms. Typically, patients are referred to oncologists after visiting a general practitioner or specialist that focuses on other areas of medicine. If these doctors are unable to effectively treat a patient’s symptoms, or, based on a patient’s personal history and lifestyle, suspect that cancer may be responsible for the patient’s health issues, the patient will be referred to an oncologist for further testing. Alternatively, a cancer diagnosis may result from standard screening procedures, such as a mammogram or blood test.

Oncology Defintion: Therapy

In oncology, therapy refers to any type of procedure designed to diagnose, treat, or prevent cancer, or, in some cases, simply help to alleviate symptoms or prolong life. Many varieties of cancer therapy are available. Patients work together with their oncologists to decide which therapy, or combination of therapies, are best for them. Many considerations must be taken into account, including the type and stage of the cancer, the goals of care, side effects, and the patient’s quality of life.

Common treatment types includes:

  • Surgery
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Targeted therapy
  • Immunotherapy

Oncology Definition: Palliative Care

Palliative care refers to a specialized area of medicine for people with serious illnesses. Palliative care may be used regardless of the overall prognosis of the disease. In terms of cancer, the goal of palliative care is to reduce symptoms, including pain and stress, rather than cure the cancer.

Oncology Definition: Screening

In the context of oncology, screening refers to pre-emptive testing for cancer. Screening is used detect and identify cancer before the patient has shown any symptoms. Screening is recommended for certain cancers, such as cancers that a patient may be at higher risk of developing. If cancer is present, it is easiest to treat in its earliest stages.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends certain types of screening for certain types of cancer. This may include tests for breast, cervical, colon, and lung cancer. To learn more, visit the CDC’s web page by clicking here.

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