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Medical Oncology (Chemotherapy)

Medical oncology is the specialty of internal medicine dealing with the diagnosis and management of cancer treatment.

A medical oncologist has knowledge of all aspects of the treatment of cancer, including chemotherapy, surgery, radiation therapy and biological therapy. However, it is the medical oncologist who determines the appropriate drugs, dosage and schedule for the administration of these drugs. In order to ensure the best outcomes, the medical oncologist frequently consults with radiation therapists and surgeons to combine chemotherapy most effectively with these modalities.

In most cases, the medical oncologist manages a cancer patient's overall care. Expertise in pain management, treatment of chemotherapy side effects, psychological care and social needs all are considered by the medical oncologist. Although the medical oncologist may have special interests within his/her field, he/she has the experience, training and skill to obtain the most recent information on any form of cancer and all types of cancer therapy.

How Chemotherapy Works

Chemotherapy, sometimes referred to as "chemo," is the use of medicines (drugs) in treating disease. While surgery and radiation therapy destroy or damage cancer cells in a specific location, chemotherapy works throughout the body. Chemotherapy can destroy cancer cells that have spread (metastasized) to parts of the body far from the original tumor site.

Over 100 chemotherapy drugs may be prescribed in various combinations. Although a single chemotherapy drug can be used to treat cancer, they are generally more powerful when used in "combination chemotherapy." These combinations of drugs, each with their own unique strength, work together to kill more cancer cells while at the same time reducing the patient's chance of becoming resistant to any one chemotherapy drug. The medical oncologist will work with the patient to decide the best drug or combination of drugs, dosages, how it will be given, and the frequency and length of treatment. These decisions will depend on the type of cancer, its location, the extent of its growth, the patient's general health and how the cancer is affecting his/her normal body functions. 

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