What is Clinical Oncology?
Do you want to work in an exciting, rapidly-advancing specialty with an emphasis on research and patient-centred care?
If you work well in a team, have good communication skills, enjoy the challenge of formulating individual treatment plans and have an interest in research then clinical oncology may be the specialty for you.
Clinical oncology encompasses radiotherapy and systemic therapy in cancer care. As a clinical oncology trainee you will learn how to formulate a patient’s treatment plan, based on the tumour type and the patient’s general health and wishes. You will learn about how tumours spread, and this will enable you to become expert in how to plan radiotherapy. You will learn about how to prescribe chemotherapy and manage its side effects. You will gain a firm foundation of knowledge in the sciences which underpin the daily work of the clinical oncologist, such as cancer biology, statistics, physics and pharmacology.
Clinical oncology is a very research-focussed specialty. For systemic treatment, research starts with work in the laboratory to identify and characterise new drugs. ‘Translational’ research identifies compounds which show potential in the laboratory and facilitates their progression to clinical studies. Finally, new treatments are tested in large-scale clinical trials to assess their impact in day-to-day practice. For radiotherapy, modern technology is enabling research into new delivery techniques that make treatments more accurate than ever before. Clinical oncologists have the opportunity to become involved at all stages in these exciting developments.
With more patients surviving cancer than ever before, there is increasing emphasis on cancer survivorship. There is renewed interest in minimising long term effects of cancer treatment and optimising quality of life.
After completing core medical training, clinical oncology is entered at ST3 level. Training is typically based in one or more cancer centres, which are found throughout the UK. Training takes five years, although many trainees also take the opportunity to have time out of programme for research leading to a higher degree or for further experience of advanced radiotherapy either in the UK or abroad.
The opportunity to deliver holistic non surgical treatment to cancer patients, along with the rapid pace of developments in understanding the biology of cancer, the emergence of new technologies to target treatments more precisely than before and the collective will of health care professionals and the public to tackle this disease mean there has never been a better time to become a clinical oncologist.
To find out more about training in clinical oncology, visit the Royal College of Radiologists' website or speak to someone in your local oncology department or deanery.