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What does a Pediatric Oncologist do?

By D. Jeffress
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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A pediatric oncologist is a physician or surgeon who specializes in treating cancer in infants, children, teenagers, and young adults. He or she usually works with a team of nurses and other medical professionals to make a cancer diagnosis and create an appropriate treatment plan. A specialist might oversee chemotherapy treatment or conduct surgery to remove tumors and other cancerous tissues from the body. An individual who wants to become a pediatric oncologist must typically complete a rigorous medical school program, pass a licensing examination, and work as a postdoctoral resident for up to seven years.

The nature and spread of cancer in children and young adults is often quite different from that in older people. A child's developing mind and body react uniquely to cancerous presences and the treatments used to remove them. A pediatric oncologist, therefore, must have a detailed understanding of the various types of cancer and how it might affect a person who is still growing. He or she must assess the risks of radiation treatment and decide on the safest and most effective means of controlling symptoms.

A pediatric oncologist usually specializes in a certain area of pediatric oncology. Many physicians perform physical evaluations and conduct clinical tests to identify the presence of cancer in new patients, then discuss the various treatment options with individuals and their families. Experts commonly prescribe medications to relieve symptoms of pain and weakness, administer chemotherapy or radiation treatments, and monitor the progress of patients. Surgeons conduct delicate procedures to physically remove cancer from the bodies of young people. Some highly-trained professionals engage in laboratory research to detect the presence of cancer in tissue samples and create new treatments that are effective at eliminating it.

To become a pediatric oncologist, a person must meet extensive educational, clinical training, and licensing requirements. Most hopeful oncologists are required to complete premedical bachelor's degree programs and attend four-year medical schools to receive their doctorates. Upon graduation, doctors generally take state- or country-specific licensing exams and engage in three-year residencies at general pediatric hospitals. During residency training, doctors gain valuable experience researching, diagnosing and treating a number of different disorders that occur in children and teenagers. Individuals usually spend an additional three to four years in specialized pediatric oncology residency programs before practicing independently.

There is a growing demand for skilled pediatric oncologists to serve a growing population of young people. New oncologists are needed to conduct research on different types of cancer and design experimental therapies to help individuals overcome symptoms. Professionals in pediatric oncology research and treatment are essential in working towards an eventual cure for the disorder.

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Discussion Comments

By Pippinwhite — On Mar 06, 2014

This is one of those jobs that is absolutely necessary and requires tremendous passion and dedication. Unlike being a pediatrician or obstetrician, which are happy disciplines and usually have good outcomes, a pediatric oncologist knows from the outset that many patients will not survive. However, he or she still has to provide the best care, along with support for the family. But, the ones who do make it provide tremendous joy.

Some pediatric oncologists specialize in research, in order to eradicate childhood cancers. This is probably a somewhat easier discipline, since the doctor is not involved in direct patient care and can more easily leave the work in the lab, rather than bringing it home.

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