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What is an oncologist?

4-minute read

An oncologist is a specialist doctor trained to investigate, diagnose and treat people with cancer or suspected cancer.

What conditions do oncologists treat?

Oncologists diagnose and treat different types of cancer in different parts of the body. Care usually extends from the first consultation, through diagnosis, treatment and afterwards.

There are 3 main types of oncologists:

  • Medical oncologists use medicines to treat cancer. Examples of medical treatment include chemotherapy, hormone therapy and immunotherapy.
  • Surgical oncologists remove tumours during an operation. They also take tissue samples (biopsies) from the body to be examined by a pathologist in a laboratory.
  • Radiation oncologists use radiation to treat cancer.

These different types of oncologists often work together as a team to diagnose, treat and care for people with cancer.

Some oncologists are sub-specialists in specific areas of the body. You may be referred to a:

  • gynaecological oncologist, who treats cancers of the female reproductive system and genitals
  • haematological oncologist, who specialises in cancers of the blood and bone marrow
  • paediatric oncologist, who specialises in cancers in children

Other oncologists specialise in areas of the body such as the head and neck, or parts of the digestive system. Some specialise in certain types of cancers, such as breast cancer or skin cancers.

What training has an oncologist had?

An oncologist has completed at least 5 or 6 years of specialist training after becoming a doctor.

In Australia, most medical oncologists are fellows of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians and members of the Medical Oncology Group of Australia (MOGA). They have the initials FRACP after their name.

Most surgical oncologists are fellows of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (FRACS).

And most radiation oncologists are fellows of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Radiologists (FRANZCR).

Where do they work?

Oncologists see their patients in a clinic or surgery. Many work in public and private hospitals. Some are involved in cancer research.

How do I find an oncologist?

Ask your doctor, close friends or family to recommend a good oncologist. Or you can use healthdirect's service finder.

How much will an oncologist cost?

The fees for an oncologist vary widely depending on the type of care you receive, whether it's in hospital, whether you have private health insurance, and on what the oncologist charges.

Out of hospital care

If you see an oncologist in their rooms, then Medicare will cover:

  • all of the costs if they bulk bill
  • some of the costs if they don't bulk bill

You can't use private health insurance for out of hospital care.

Treatment in a public hospital using Medicare

If you are treated in a public hospital or clinic and use Medicare, it is free. Medicare covers all costs.

Treatment in any hospital using private health insurance

If you use private health insurance to be treated in either a public hospital or a private hospital or clinic, you will be charged by the oncologist and by the hospital. You might also be charged for pathology tests, x-rays and other forms of imaging, and by other doctors you see, such as an anaesthetist. Your private health insurance will cover some of these costs

Asking about the costs

It can be expensive to see specialists.

Before you go for the first time, ask the oncologist or their staff about the costs. You can also ask what Medicare will cover.

If you plan to use private health insurance, you can also contact your health fund.

If the costs are too high, you can:

  • ask the oncologist or their staff about a reduction
  • consider another oncologist or health service
  • talk to your GP about options such as different type of treatment

It's a good idea to get a referral from your GP to see an oncologist. That way, your GP can pass on useful information, and the oncologist can later tell your GP about your visit. If you don't have a referral, neither Medicare nor private health insurance will contribute to the cost of your care.

More information about oncologists

Cancer Council Australia has more information on oncologists, cancer, cancer treatment, and living with cancer. Call 13 11 20.

The Medical Oncology Group of Australia has information to help you understand the cancer treatment process and clinical trials.

Last reviewed: October 2018

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