Radiation oncologist

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]


A radiation oncologist is a doctor who specializes in the treatment of cancer patients, using radiation as the main modality of treatment as opposed to a medical oncologist who is a doctor who uses chemotherapy as the preferred modality of treatment. In some countries, radiotherapy and chemotherapy are controlled by a single oncologist who is a "clinical oncologist". Radiation oncologists not only work closely with other physicians such as surgical oncologists, other surgeons, internal medicine subspecialists and medical oncologists, but they also rely on the expertise of medical physicists, dosimetrists, radiation therapists, nurses, and many other support staff.

In the United States, radiation oncologists undergo 4 years of residency (in addition to an internship). During this time they learn about oncology, the physics and biology of ionizing radiation, and the treatment of cancer patients with radiation. After completion of this training, a radiation oncologist may undergo certification by the American Board of Radiology (ABR) which includes a written test and a practical oral exam. Successfully passing these tests leads to the granting of a 10 year, time limited, board certification.

In Canada, radiation oncologists directly enter radiation oncology residencies of a 5 year duration. Most radiation oncologists also pursue a fellowship after their residency, examples of which include brachytherapy, intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT), gynecologic radiation oncology, and many others. Radiation oncologists in Canada commonly treat two or three different anatomic sites, such as head and neck, breast, genitourinary, hematologic, gynecologic, central nervous system, or lung cancer.

In the United Kingdom, clinical oncologists, who practise radiotherapy are also fully qualified to administer chemotherapy. After completion of their basic medical degree, all oncologists must train fully in general internal medicine and pass the MRCP exam, normally 3-4 years after qualification. Following this, 5 years of Specialist Registrar (SpR) training is required in all non-surgical aspects of oncology in a recognised training program. During this time, the trainee must pass the FRCR examination in order to qualify for specialist registration as a clinical oncologist. A significant proportion of trainees will extend their time to undertake an academic fellowship, MD, or PhD. Almost all consultant clinical oncologists in the UK are Fellows of the Royal College of Radiologists, the governing body of the specialty. Whilst most oncologists will treat a selection of common general oncology cases, there is increasing specialisation, with the expectation that consultants will specialise in one or two subsites.

See also: radiation therapy, oncology.