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‘C’ for cure

education Updated: Sep 04, 2012 18:12 IST

The lowdown
Oncology is the study of cancer, a disease characterised by abnormal cell growth in the body. Its sub-specialities include surgical, medical and radiation oncology. A medical oncologist provides systemic therapy such as chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, targeted therapies, and bone marrow transplants. According to a WHO (World Health Organisation) India report, by 2020 the developing world is likely to have 70% of the projected 20 million cancer patients globally. There are, however, far fewer oncologists in India than required, especially for surgical and medical (involving therapy such as chemotherapy) treatment. As an oncologist, you will need to help a patient deal with the emotional upheaval once the cancer has been detected. Patients also find the pain and after-effects of chemotherapy difficult to handle, so doctors should work hard to ensure that the people in their care are physically and mentally comfortable. Inter-personal skills are as crucial as medical expertise

An average workday of a medical oncologist:
8.30am: Reach hospital. Attend tumour board meeting with surgical and radiation oncologists, a gynaecologist, a pathologist, etc
9.30am: Ward rounds
10.30am: Meet patients in the OPD
3pm: Lunch
5pm: Evening round in wards
6.30pm: Leave for the day

The payoff
In the government sector, a surgical/medical oncologist could earn Rs. 50,000 to Rs. 80,000 a month. Higher in the hierarchy, the take-home salaries will be Rs. 90,000 to Rs. 1 lakh a month. Packages vary in the private sector. Someone just starting out may make Rs. 60,000 to Rs. 2 lakh a month in a good institution

* Fully equipped and trained to ensure a patient’s comfort —physical and psychological
* Be sensitive, compassionate
* Good interpersonal skills; you will need to help a patient deal with the emotional upheaval once cancer has been detected
* Be a good listener
* Be self-motivated and able to put in a huge effort
* One has to keep abreast with the latest developments

Getting there
Study science with physics, chemistry and biology in Class 12. After completing high school, go for an MBBS degree, after which you can do either of these three-year courses: a) MS, followed by a three-year MCh programme,
b) MD (medicine/ paediatrics), topped up with a DM (medical oncology) qualification or
c) MD in radiotherapy. If you can’t do MS or MD, opt for a DNB (diploma)

Institutes and URLs
* Tata Memorial Hospital, Mumbai
* All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Delhi
* Rajiv Gandhi Cancer Institute and Research Centre, Delhi
* Batra Hospital and Medical Research Centre, Delhi
* Gujarat Cancer and Research Institute, Ahmedabad
* Kidwai Memorial Institute of Oncology, Bangalore
* Dr Balabhai Nanavati Hospital, Mumbai
* Nizam’s Institute of Medical Sciences, Hyderabad

Pros and cons
* Progressive career growth
* Training takes time
* Opportunities to go abroad through paid fellowships
* It can be demanding and frustrating sometimes. Burn-out syndromes have been reported
* There is great deal of satisfaction
* It can be a difficult profession to be in since a fair number of your patients may not survive
* You need to keep updating yourself; go for continuing medical education (CME) courses
* You may be exposed to potentially hazardous machinery and chemicals

Oncology has become one of the most dynamic disciplines in medical science and it offers tremendous scope -Dr DC Doval, director, medical oncology & director research, Rajiv Gandhi Cancer Institute & Research Centre, New Delhi