The diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of cancer are the primary focuses of the medical discipline known as medical oncology. Treatment of cancer patients by medical oncologists may involve chemotherapy, hormone treatment, targeted therapy, or immunotherapy.
Medical oncologists collaborate with other medical professionals to develop the best treatment plan for each patient. They inform the patient about their cancer diagnosis, including its type and stage. They additionally help in minimizing the adverse effects of cancer treatment and its symptoms.
Medical oncology disseminates findings from clinical and experimental research in oncology and hematology, notably with regard to experimental chemotherapy and immunotherapy treatments.
In addition, medical oncology offers cutting-edge examinations of hematology and oncology. Subjects covered include immunobiology, pathogenesis and treatment of malignant tumors. This type of medicine also focuses on experimental therapies in chemotherapy and immunotherapy and covers clinical and experimental research in oncology and hematology. (1,2)
Definition and Overview
The medical specialty known as oncology is focused on the detection and management of cancer. It includes medical oncology, surgical oncology, and radiation oncology. (3)
Medical oncology uses chemotherapy, hormone therapy, targeted therapy, or immunotherapy to diagnose, treat, and prevent cancer. Medical oncologists' goal is to provide the best possible outcomes for their cancer patients, whether that’s a cure or palliative care. Whatever the case, they will provide treatment and counseling to the patients and their families. Their work includes diagnosing cancers, discussing treatment options with patients, arranging and supervising drug treatment and therapies including the management of any complications, supporting patients, and overseeing their care, including after-treatment care.
Chemotherapy and radiation therapy are often used in conjunction by medical oncologists to treat cancer patients.
The fact that medical oncologists frequently collaborate with a clinical oncologist as a member of a multidisciplinary team sets them apart from medical oncologists who use non-radiological treatments. (4)
Medical oncologists are essential in the cancer diagnosis process. In order to confirm the presence of cancer and establish its type, stage, and extent, they examine the patient's medical history, conduct physical examinations, order and interpret diagnostic procedures (such as blood tests, imaging investigations, and biopsies), and work together with other specialists.
Based on the specific characteristics of the cancer, the stage of the disease, and the patient's general health, they create specific treatment strategies. Some common treatment procedures used in medical oncology include
Chemotherapy describes medications that are used to kill cancer cells. Medications can be administered orally or intravenously (IV). Medications of several kinds can be administered simultaneously or one after the other.
- Targeted Therapy
Drugs are used in targeted therapy to prevent the development and spread of cancer which is given as pills or IV. This treatment causes less damage to normal cells than other treatments. Targeted therapy concentrates on certain targets (molecules) in cancer cells, whereas standard chemotherapy kills both cancer cells and some normal cells. These targets affect the development and survival of cancer cells. The medicine attacks these targets to kill cancer cells and prevent them from spreading. targeted therapy can stop the process that causes cancer cells to grow and spread, trigger cancer cells to die on their own, and directly kill cancer cells.
The type of cancer treatment known as immunotherapy makes use of the body's defense mechanism against infection (the immune system). It employs chemicals created by the body or in a lab to assist the immune system in fighting cancer more effectively. This aids the body's elimination of cancerous cells.
Immunotherapy drugs are designed to seek out and attack specific parts of a cancer cell, and some contain toxins or radioactive substances.
- Hormone Therapy
Breast, prostate, and ovarian cancers, among others, are hormone-related cancers that are treated with hormone therapy. It involves blocking or interfering with the hormones that promote cancer cell growth. This can be achieved through medications that lower hormone levels or inhibit hormone receptors. (5)
Medical oncology procedures are recommended for people who have been confirmed to have cancer. Medical oncology procedures may be required depending on the type and stage of the cancer, the patient's general health, and the specific treatment objectives. These procedures are generally suitable for patients with
- colorectal cancer
- breast cancer
- lung cancer
- upper gastrointestinal (GI) cancer
- ovarian cancer
- tumors of the kidney (urological cancers)
- palliative care. (6)
Risks and Side Effects
Medical oncological treatments have many risks and side effects. A risk and side effect occurs when the treatment damages healthy cells. These differ from person to person and for different medications and types of treatment. The most common risk and side effects include,
- Edema (swelling)
- Heart damage
- Sexual health issues
- Sleep disturbances and insomnia
- Urinary issues
- Bleeding and bruising
- Fertility issues
- Hair, skin, and nail problems
- Mouth problems
- Memory or concentration problems, or delirium
- Nerve problems
- Nausea and vomiting (7)
Post-Procedure and Follow-up
Completing treatment does not end cancer care. The patient continues to see the healthcare team for follow-up care. They monitor the signs of cancer recurrence, manage the side effects of treatment, and check the patient’s overall health.
The patient and healthcare team work together to plan follow-up care. The plan will be designed for the patient only and guides health care for months and years after treatment. It probably includes regular physical exams and medical tests.
A follow-up care plan is usually based on medical guidelines for the specific type and stage of cancer. The doctor also considers the patient's needs and wishes when planning follow-up care. (8)
In the recovery process, having a follow-up care plan can help the patient feel more in control as they return to daily life after treatment and over time. When the patient has a medical support system in place, it can help to feel better physically and emotionally.
It is reasonable to expect that life will return to normal after therapy, but a full recovery can take some time.
It might be difficult to perform tasks that could have been performed in the past or there might be lasting sores on the body.
As cancer treatment ends, it is important to gather information on how to maintain and improve health. It is possible to protect health against cancer by making small changes such as regular exercise, healthy eating, avoiding stress, and risk factors that can help to feel better and improve health.
1- WebMD. What Is Medical Oncology? (https://www.webmd.com/cancer/medical-oncology)
2- Springer. Medical Oncology. (https://www.springer.com/journal/12032)
3- National Cancer Institute. Oncology. (https://www.cancer.gov/publications/dictionaries/cancer-terms/def/oncology#)
4,6- NHS. Medical oncology. (https://www.healthcareers.nhs.uk/explore-roles/doctors/roles-doctors/medicine/medical-oncology)
5- MedlinePlus. Cancer treatments. (https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000901.htm)
7- Yale Medicine. Side Effects of Cancer Treatment. (https://www.yalemedicine.org/conditions/side-effects-cancer-treatment#:~:text=What%20are%20the%20most%20common,hair%2C%20skin%20and%20nail%20problems.)
8- Cancer.Net. The Importance of Follow-Up Care. (https://www.cancer.net/survivorship/follow-care-after-cancer-treatment/importance-follow-care)