A program that focuses on the scientific study of carcinogens; the onset of malignancy in cells, tissues, blood, and organs; the genetics of cancer; the anatomy and physiology of cancer cells; and the study of cancer behaviors and treatments. Includes instruction in gene expression; oncogenes and tumor suppressor genes; viral genes and cancer proliferation; regulation of signal transduction; cancer proteins; hormonal and growth factors in cancer cells; tumor promotion, progression, and metastasis; carcinogen receptors and metabolism; carcinogen ecology; immunological targeting; and studies of genetic, chemical, radiologic and other treatment therapies.

Oncologists and cancer biologists study cancers, along with their causes, effects, and mechanisms.

Cancers are a type of disease that can develop anywhere in the body from any ordinary cell. This feature makes them particularly insidious; there are many types of cancers, each with their own distinct traits, but what they have in common is a tendency to spread until high populations of malignant cells prevent the cells around them from performing their intended functions. A cluster of these cells often results in the formation of a lump known as a tumor, which can indicate the presence of a cancer. Oncologists treat cancer patients in clinical settings, and cancer biologists research the behavior of cancer cells. Both must possess expert knowledge of what cancer is and does in order to prevent it from overtaking a body.

Oncologists are typically divided by either the affected anatomical areas they specialize in or the methodology they are trained to use in treatment. Radiation oncologists employ radiation therapy, whereas surgical oncologists use surgical approaches to diagnose and remove cancerous tissue. Cancer biologists tend to be research professionals with a particular specialty, such as the molecular structure of tumors or the genetic factors that make certain cancers more likely to appear.

Work in oncology or cancer biology may include...

  • Identifying cancer cells and masses through examination
  • Developing treatment plans to combat cancerous growths
  • Using specialized techniques to analyze specimens and models
  • Planning and executing experiments
  • Assessing patient needs and providing appropriate care

Those working in oncology and cancer biology can mostly be found in hospitals, outpatient clinics, and medical research labs, where they work as physicians, surgeons, specialty nurses, and lab technicians. Government agencies often have their own cancer experts on staff, and universities hire cancer biologists to teach, lecture, or publish. Sometimes pharmaceutical companies or manufacturers of cancer treatment equipment hire writers, marketers, and sales personnel with experience in cancer biology. Cancer has yet to be cured, and there are plenty of positions for those who want to dedicate their expertise to fighting it.

The study of cancer requires a strong background in the sciences, and most students will begin their journey with coursework in molecular biology, genetics, anatomy, physiology, and pathology. These subjects are often included in the core curriculum of a pre-medical, biology, or nursing track of Bachelor's degree programs, and provide graduates with many of the skills they need to continue in the field. Most pursue additional study in the form of certifications and licensures, graduate programs, or medical school. For aspiring oncologists, medical school is compulsory and provides students with clinical opportunities. Cancer biologists who aim to conduct research tend to be more fulfilled by Master's and PhD programs, which require years of independent study and contributions to the discipline.

Cancer is a widespread medical problem that affects individuals in devastating ways, and oncologists and cancer biologists are working every day to reduce its prevalence. If you want to contribute to that mission, maybe a career in oncology or cancer biology is right for you.

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