A radiation oncologist is a specialist physician who uses ionizing radiation (such as megavoltage X-rays or radionuclides) in the treatment of cancer. Radiation oncology is one of the three primary specialties, the other two being surgical and medical oncology, involved in the treatment of cancer. Radiation can be given as a curative modality, either alone or in combination with surgery and/or chemotherapy. It may also be used palliatively, to relieve symptoms in patients with incurable cancers. A radiation oncologist may also use radiation to treat some benign diseases and benign tumors. In some countries (not the United States), radiotherapy and chemotherapy are controlled by a single oncologist who is a "clinical oncologist". Radiation oncologists work closely with other physicians such as surgical oncologists, interventional radiologists, internal medicine subspecialists, and medical oncologists, as part of the multi-disciplinary cancer team.
Training (by country)
In the United States, radiation oncologists undergo four years of residency (in addition to an internship), which is more dedicated oncology training than any other specialty. Currently, radiation oncology is one of the most competitive specialties for graduating medical students to obtain training in. During the four year post-graduate training, residents learn about clinical oncology, the physics and biology of ionizing radiation, and the treatment of cancer patients with radiation. After completion of this training, a radiation oncologist may undergo certification by either the American Board of Radiology (ABR) or the American Board of Physician Specialties (ABPS) for M.D. degree holders or the American Osteopathic Board of Radiology (AOBR) for D.O. degree holders. Board certification includes a written test and a practical oral exam. Successfully passing these tests leads to the granting of a 10 year, time limited, board certification for ABR diplomates or an 8 year, time limited, board certification for ABPS diplomates. Recertification is obtained via a series of continuing medical education and practice qualifications including a written exam, clinical practice parameter evaluation, continuing medical education credits, and meeting community practice standards.
In Canada, radiation oncologists directly enter radiation oncology residencies of a 5 year duration. Most radiation oncologists also pursue a fellowship after their residency, examples of which include brachytherapy, intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT), gynecologic radiation oncology, and many others. Radiation oncologists in Canada commonly treat two or three different anatomic sites, such as head and neck, breast, genitourinary, hematologic, gynecologic, central nervous system, or lung cancer.
United Kingdom & Ireland
In the United Kingdom, clinical oncologists, who practise radiotherapy are also fully qualified to administer chemotherapy. After completion of their basic medical degree, all oncologists must train fully in general internal medicine and pass the MRCP exam, normally 3–4 years after qualification. Following this, 5 years of Specialist Registrar (SpR) training is required in all non-surgical aspects of oncology in a recognised training program. During this time, the trainee must pass the FRCR examination in order to qualify for specialist registration as a clinical oncologist. A significant proportion of trainees will extend their time to undertake an academic fellowship, MD, or PhD. Almost all consultant clinical oncologists in the UK are Fellows of the Royal College of Radiologists, the governing body of the specialty. Whilst most oncologists will treat a selection of common general oncology cases, there is increasing specialisation, with the expectation that consultants will specialise in one or two subsites.
Australia and New Zealand
In Australia and New Zealand, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Radiologists (RANZCR ) awards a Fellowship (FRANZCR) to trainees after a 5 year program and several sets of exams and modules. As in other countries, radiation oncologists tend to subspecialize although generalists will always exist in smaller centres. Although trained in the delivery of chemotherapy, radiation oncologists in Australia and New Zealand rarely prescribe it.
In Iran, radiation oncologists, who are fully trained in all non-surgical aspects of oncology (including radiation therapy and chemotherapy), directly enter a 4 year residency program after completion of 7 years of training in general medicine and acceptance in national comprehensive residency exam.