Non surgical oncology consists of clinical, medical and haematological oncology. In the UK, clinical oncologists specialise in the treatment of malignant disease using either radiation treatment or systemic therapy or more commonly a combination of both.
Radiation treatment is treatment using the precise delivery of high energy x-rays to the tumour using either external beams of radiation (external beam radiotherapy) or radioactive sources placed directly into the tumour (brachytherapy) or radioisotopes. Administering radiation treatment involves computer planning, planning on fluoroscopic x-ray images and theatre sessions for brachytherapy as in cervical and prostate cancer. Systemic therapy involves the use of cytotoxic drugs, hormones and molecular targeted therapies to control cancer. Both treatments can be given with a curative intent or a palliative intent. In fact, improving quality of life for patients with incurable disease remains an important goal for oncologists and is as important as cure.
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Is it the right career for me?
Clinical oncologists play a central role in cancer management due to the wide range of treatments they can offer. At last, we have a better understanding of the biology of malignant disease and this is an exciting time to be specialising in this field.
Clinical oncology is mostly an outpatient specialty, with most of the treatments being delivered on an outpatient basis. Inpatient work consists of managing complications of cancer, such as metastatic spinal cord compression or managing complications of treatment, such as neutropenic sepsis. There are few out of hours emergencies and on calls are sociable.
It is a very clinically focused specialty with considerable direct patient contact. Empathy and good communication skills are essential as patients and relatives have to be guided at a difficult time of their lives. Liaising and working closely with a multidisciplinary team of clinical nurse specialists, radiographers, physicists, surgeons, radiologists and pathologists is a major part of the job and requires good interpersonal and organisational skills. Clinical oncologists also have a close working relationship with palliative care doctors and nurses.
Clinical oncologists can follow an academic path where the main focus of their job is research, or they can follow a more clinical route. There is plenty of opportunity in either case to be involved in clinical trials.
The week is varied and split between outpatient clinics, chemotherapy clinics, radiotherapy planning and attending multidisciplinary team meetings. Clinical oncologists can work in a large cancer centre or within a district general hospital. Most will specialise in 2 or 3 tumour sites as consultants.
Training involves taking part in higher specialist examinations, and the high service demands require a considerable level of commitment. The nature of the illness means that work can be emotionally draining at times, but there is a uniqueness about patients with cancer that makes this specialty highly rewarding.
Attractions of the specialty
- Interesting and rewarding multimodality specialty
- Patient oriented and ‘hands on’ specialty
- Team oriented requiring collaboration with other health care professionals
- Interaction with other specialties
- Week is very varied
- Good life work balance with sociable on calls
- Well-structured and comprehensive training program
- Opportunity for subspecialty and flexible training
- Huge opportunity to take part in research
- Rapidly evolving specialty with new drugs and advancing technology
What are the entry criteria?
Please see the Modernising Medical Careers (MMC) website for the latest person specification which outlines the essential entry criteria.
Clinical oncology is a popular specialty and prospective trainees are encouraged to do clinical audits relevant to the specialty and to spend time finding out how the cancer services work in the UK.
Click here for information on Person Specification.
How to apply?
Clinical oncology posts are advertised nationally and applications are through the National Recruitment scheme. Click here for more information.