The Department of Medical Oncology at Narayana Health's group of hospitals offer cancer treatment provided by a team of qualified medical oncologists experienced in diagnosis, treatment planning and follow-up with chemotherapy, hormonal, biological and targeted therapy.
Narayana Health strives to offer world-class cancer care services using the latest technology and expertise of its medical oncologists. We provide a complete range of cancer care treatments including medical oncology, surgical oncology, and radiation treatments.
What is Medical Oncology?
Medical oncology is a type of cancer care that involves treatment using chemotherapy, immunotherapy, hormone therapy, and targeted therapy. It effectively works in the treatment of cancer, when combined with other cancer care treatments such as radiation oncology and surgical oncology.
Treatments Used in Medical Oncology
Chemotherapy involves using drugs for the treatment of cancer. These drugs destroy cancer cells by entirely stopping or slowing down their growth. Chemotherapy is generally used to treat recurrent cancers ( cancer cells reemerging after the treatment) or metastatic cancers (cancer cells that spread to other parts of the body). Chemotherapy drugs are administered orally, intravenously, injected directly into the fluid surrounding the brain or the abdominal cavity.
There are three types of chemotherapy.
- Neoadjuvant chemotherapy that is delivered before the surgical or radiation procedures. It is recommended when the tumours are too big to be operated or when the location of the tumour is difficult to operate. The drugs used in Neoadjuvant chemotherapy reduce the size of the tumour to enable surgery.
- Adjuvant chemotherapy that is delivered after the surgical or radiation procedures. It is recommended to clean up any remaining cancer cells that are not visible in the imaging tests. This treatment helps to reduce the chances of recurrence of cancer.
- Palliative Chemotherapy is recommended to manage the symptoms of cancer.
Side-effects of Chemotherapy
Chemotherapy drugs also tend to destroy the rapidly dividing healthy cells that are present in the intestines, mouth, etc., which results in some side effects. The side effects of chemotherapy drugs generally disappear after the treatment. Some side-effects of chemotherapy include
- Hair loss
- Vomiting or nausea
- Mouth sores
- Low platelet count
Targeted therapy is an advanced cancer care treatment that uses drugs to target the specific proteins and genes found in the cancer cells and other cells related to cancer growth. The drugs stop the spread of cancer to other parts of the body.
There are two types of targeted therapy.
- Small Molecule Drug Therapy - These drugs reach inside the cancer cells and target the proteins and block the signals for cell division and cell growth.
- Monoclonal Antibodies - These are laboratory-made antibodies that are similar to the antibodies produced by the immune system. They target the proteins in cancer cells and destroy them.
Side-effects of Targeted Therapy
Though targeted therapy is less harmful than chemotherapy, it does have some rare side-effects. Some of them are-
- Liver inflammation
- Acne or skin rashes
- Hair depigmentation
- High blood pressure
- Gastrointestinal perforation
- Impaired sperm production
- Blood clotting problems
Immunotherapy is an innovative procedure in medical oncology that uses the body’s own immune cells to stop the growth of cancer. The procedure activates the body’s immune mechanism to destroy the infected cells. Medical oncologists use the immune cells from the patient’s body or laboratory-made treatments to improve the functioning of the immune system.
Immunotherapy can be categorized into three types.
- Drug Therapy - Drugs used to boost the immune system and create antibodies to destroy the cancer cells.
- Dendritic Cell Therapy - This therapy involves the use of T-cells to fight cancer cells. T-cells are taken from the blood and sent to the laboratory for modification. The modified T-cells are then injected into the patient’s body to fight infection and destroy cancer.
- Cancer Vaccines - Cancer vaccines are injected into the patients in order to boost the immune system to produce antibodies to kill the antigens and other materials that cause the growth of the cancer cells.
Side effects of Immunotherapy
Immunotherapy boosts the functioning of the immune system and may result in some side effects such as
- Allergic reactions
- Fluid retention
- Skin blisters, dryness or redness
- High or low blood pressure
This therapy is used to treat hormone-dependent or hormone-sensitive cancers that use hormones to grow. Some examples of hormone-sensitive cancers are breast cancer, ovarian cancer, etc. The hormone therapy uses medicines to stop or decrease the production of hormones in the body to stop the growth of cancer cells.
Side-effects of Hormone Therapy
Since hormone therapy involves reduction or stopping the production of hormones, there are some side effects due to the hormone deficiency. Some side-effects include
- Hot flashes and vaginal dryness
- Problems of the digestive system such as diarrhoea and constipation
- Weight gain
- Memory loss
- Hair loss or thinning
- Joint pains
- Thinning of bones
How to Choose a Medical Oncologist?
The choice of a medical oncologist plays a crucial role in the quality of your cancer care treatment and the outcomes. Cancer treatments generally take a long time and you will be required to visit the oncologist at regular intervals. It is important to choose an oncologist with whom you are comfortable. You must enquire about the approach and expertise of the oncologist before you make the final choice. Here are some tips to choose a medical oncologist for your cancer care services.
- Choose a doctor with experience in treating specific cancer that you are suffering with. Sometimes you may have to work with a team of different oncologists specializing in medical oncology, surgical oncology, or radiation oncology.
- Check whether the hospital or clinic of your medical oncologist accepts your insurance plan. You can verify with your insurance company or ask the customer care staff at the hospital to provide a list of insurance plans accepted by them.
- Do a bit of research. Speak with your friends, family members or colleagues about your choice of the oncologist. You can speak to people who have undergone cancer care services for the same type of cancer that you are suffering. Know about their experience with the doctors and ask for recommendations.
- Find out about the credentials and affiliations of the oncologist. Know whether he has received any advanced training or is affiliated to prestigious bodies in cancer care.
- Speak to the doctor or his staff about the number of patients treated at the clinic and their outcomes. You can also ask them for references to get a first-hand account of the patient experience. Online forums, reviews, and patient testimonials also help you to know about the quality of treatment at the hospital.
- If you are suffering from a rare type of cancer that requires personalized treatment, choose an oncologist with relevant experience.
- Know about the team in detail. Medical oncology treatments such as chemotherapy, immunotherapy, etc. require the services of other specialists such as nutritionists, counsellors, palliative care doctors, diagnostic radiologists, etc. All these specialists will work with you during the course of your cancer care treatment and hence it is essential to know about them before you start the treatment.
- Ask about the patient facilities and special services at the clinic. If you are opting to undergo cancer care services in a foreign country, choose a hospital with a dedicated international division that provides visa application, accommodation, concierge and other services to facilitate a smooth and seamless treatment process.
- Schedule an appointment. Talk to the doctor in person or on the phone. This will help you understand the details about the treatment approach and the working style of the oncologist and their team.
- Know about the cost of cancer care treatment. Choose an oncologist providing high-quality cancer care services at affordable costs.
Medical Oncology FAQs
There are two types of tumours. Malignant tumours and benign tumours. Benign tumours do not spread to other parts of the body and are harmless. Malignant tumours are cancerous. These tumours keep on growing until they are stopped and the tumor is destroyed using different types of treatment such as medical oncology, surgical procedures, and radiation.
Medical oncology is a cancer care procedure that is done using medicines to stop the growth and spread of tumours. On the other hand, surgical oncology refers to the treatment that involves surgical procedures to remove cancerous growth.
Clinical trials are medical research processes that help oncologists to find new cancer care treatments. They are conducted on cancer patients to test new cancer drugs, new types of cancer care treatments, and advanced surgeries to remove tumours.
Chemotherapy and other medical oncology treatments cause some side-effects. Since the drugs cannot differentiate between the cancer cells and the healthy cells, they act in the same way on all the cells, which results in the occurrence of the side-effects. However, these conditions reduce once the treatment gets over.
You can manage the side-effects of chemotherapy and other cancer care treatments by taking a well-balanced diet, taking adequate rest, healthy lifestyle habits, and following the recommendations of the palliative specialist and other specialists treating you.
Your medical oncologist will chart out your treatment plan depending on various factors such as age, size and location of the tumour, nature of the tumour, growth and spread of the cancer cells, your overall health, and medical history.
A medical oncologist is a doctor who provides medical care and treatment to a person diagnosed with cancer by using chemotherapy or other medications, such as targeted therapy or immunotherapy. They are involved in the management and care of the patient throughout the course of the disease starting with the diagnosis. Their role further includes
- Explaining the diagnosis procedure and stages of cancer
- Briefing about the available treatment options and helping them go with the right choice
- Ensuring quality care and compassion during their treatment
- Helping a patient manage the symptoms and side effects of cancer and cancer treatment.
Usually, the first visit to a medical oncologist may last two to three hours. The patient can expect the following during the visit.
- People commonly feel anxiety, anger, sadness or a curious lack of it when they find out that they have cancer. They may possibly feel a numb sense of shock initially.
- The oncologist will perform a physical exam even though the patient already had it from their primary care doctor.
- Additional tests like blood work or imaging tests may be advised.
- The patient is allowed to meet other cancer care team members as well as healthcare professionals who can explain the insurance process and costs involved in treatment.
- The oncologist will also give a basic prediction of how long the recovery process will take.
Learning to live with cancer or manage it as a chronic illness will require a true partnership between the individual and the healthcare team. Patients have to be closely monitored to identify any changes in the condition. Besides, they also have to go through regular testing, treatment and follow-up appointments. The following tips can help to cope up better.
- Take time to understand the diagnosis.
- Try to be as open as possible with the care team. Ask them questions and communicate freely.
- Understand the treatment plan and medication schedule and stick to it.
- Take care of your emotional well-being.
- It is completely fine to ask for help or seek support.
- Eat a healthy diet and be active when you can.
Oncologists usually start by performing a physical examination to find abnormalities that could indicate cancer. They might further ask you to get other tests done, such as blood tests, urine tests, and imaging scans like MRIs, ultrasounds and CT scans. Oncologists also perform biopsies to check for cancer cells in tissues.
Oncology is a subspecialty of internal medicine. Doctors have to complete a three-year residency in internal medicine after graduating from medical school and becoming a licensed physician.