Oncology, as a scientific field, is defined as the study of tumours and cancers. Onco denotes bulk, mass, or tumour, and -logy implies study in the word.
An oncologist’s role
Cancer specialists or oncologists are medical professionals who practise oncology. These oncologists play a variety of roles. They aid in the diagnosis of cancer, the staging of cancer, and the classification of cancer’s aggressiveness.
Oncology diagnostic instruments
The patient’s clinical history is still the most important diagnostic tool. Fatigue, weight loss, unexplained anaemia, fever of unknown origin, and other symptoms that point to cancer are common.
Oncology relies on diagnostic tools such as biopsy, or the removal of tumour tissue and examination under a microscope. Endoscopy for the gastrointestinal tract, imaging studies such as X-rays, CT scanning, MRI scanning, ultrasound and other radiological techniques, Scintigraphy, Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography, Positron Emission Tomography, and nuclear medicine techniques, among others, are other diagnostic tools.
Blood tests for biological or tumour markers are common methods. The presence of these markers in the blood may be indicative of cancer.
How widespread is cancer?
Millions of people are living with or have had cancer today. Cancer is the country’s second leading cause of death. In the United States, approximately half of all men and one-third of all women will develop cancer during their lifetime.
How long has cancer existed?
Some of the earliest evidence of cancer can be found in fossilised bone tumours, ancient Egyptian human mummies, and ancient manuscripts. Mummies have been found with abnormalities resembling osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer.
The first known description of cancer is found in the Edwin Smith Papyrus, which is a copy of an ancient Egyptian textbook on trauma surgery. It describes eight cases of breast tumours or ulcers treated with cauterization using a tool called the fire drill. It dates from around 3000 BC. The condition is described as “incurable” on the papyrus.
Oncologists assist in the planning of therapy for each of their patients based on the grade and stage of their cancer. This could be accomplished through surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or other means.
Other specialists may be involved in cancer treatment. This includes surgeons, radiation oncologists, and radiotherapists, among others. Oncologists, on the other hand, oversee the entirety of cancer treatment.
Relapse and remission
Following the completion of initial therapy, oncologists are responsible for monitoring the patient for relapse and remission. The former denotes a recurrence or return of cancer, whereas being in remission denotes cancer-free status.
Screening for cancer
Oncology and cancer research entails screening the general population for cancer as well as screening patients’ relatives (for cancers thought to have a hereditary basis). In the case of breast cancer, for example, both population screening with mammography and familial screening with genetic analysis of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are used.
In patients with terminal cancer, the oncologist is also in charge of palliative or symptomatic care. This and other treatment-choice issues raise several ethical concerns, including patient autonomy and choice, which the oncologist must address.
Progress in oncology
A massive amount of research is being conducted in all areas of oncology, from cancer cell biology to chemotherapy treatment regimens and optimal palliative care and pain relief. As a result, oncology is a constantly changing and evolving field.
Clinical trials are used in cancer research. Patients are frequently enrolled in large studies coordinated by Cancer Research UK (CRUK), the Medical Research Council (MRC), the European Organization for Research and Treatment of Cancer (EORTC), or the National Cancer Research Network (NCRN) in the United Kingdom (NCRN).