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INTRODUCTION

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Illustration by George Folz, © 2019 Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System

BACKGROUND

Oncology is the branch of medicine that specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer.1 There are over 100 different types of cancer, each named for either their location in the body (e.g., breast cancer, colon cancer) or for the individual who first discovered or described it (e.g., Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Kaposi’s sarcoma). The uncontrolled growth of cells within the body is the defining feature of all cancers. Healthy cells regularly grow and divide. When they become old or damaged, they die and are replaced by new cells. In cancer, genetic changes within cells accumulate, which leads to uncontrolled growth and tumor formation. These genetic changes can have a multitude of different causes such as the chemicals in tobacco smoke, radiation from the sun’s rays, or inheritance from one’s parents. Some tumors are benign. These cells grow and divide in an atypical manner but are not considered cancerous as they do not spread to other parts of the body and are rarely life-threatening. On the contrary, cancer consists of malignant tumors that invade the healthy tissue around them and may metastasize (form new tumors and spread to other parts of the body). Cancer is classified in many ways and may broadly be divided into cancers of the blood, which include leukemias and lymphomas, and solid tumors, which include breast, lung, prostate, and colon cancers. Table 9-1 lists common cancers, including estimated and reported data regarding new diagnoses, deaths caused, and 5-year survival from the time of diagnosis.2

Table 9-1Common Cancers and Their Impact on American Lives

Depending on the patient, as well as the cancer type, stage, and location, a variety of treatment modalities may be employed. This may involve surgery to physically remove the tumor, radiation or chemotherapy to destroy cancerous cells using high energy x-rays or toxic medications, respectively, or a combination of all three. Newer ways of treating cancer include targeted therapies and immunotherapies. The former use medications that target a specific part of the cancer cell, effecting its growth and survival, while the latter boosts the body’s natural immunologic defenses to fight and destroy cancer cells.

Members of the Interprofessional Oncology Team

Due to the high level of complexity associated with the care of patients with cancer, a multitude of health professionals are involved.3 The physician expert ...

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