September 6, 2014 | by Valerie Zapanta
Radiation oncology is one of the three main specialties involved in the successful treatment of cancer, along with surgical oncology and medical oncology. Experts in this field, known as radiation oncologists, advise patients as to whether radiation therapy will be useful for their cancer – and how it can best be safely and effectively delivered.
Here, Jeffrey Y.C. Wong, M.D., chair of radiation oncology at City of Hope, shares what he sees as the future of radiation oncology and the importance of this type of therapy in the treatment of cancer.
How and why did you decide to become a radiation oncologist?
I’ve always had an interest in the math, physics and engineering fields. I almost became an engineer, but decided to switch to oncology with a focus in medicine, and radiation oncology is a good blend of both. Radiation oncology is a blend of engineering, computer sciences, physics, biology and medicine, with the primary goal of helping people.
What inspires you daily to do the work you do?
I, along with my colleagues at City of Hope, have the opportunity to make a difference in patients'' lives every day. For many patients, our therapies can help result in a cure of their cancer. We also have the opportunity to make a contribution to cancer research and advance the field of oncology.
What is the biggest myth about radiation oncology?
The biggest myth is that radiation therapy is supplemental or secondary to other therapies, such as surgery and chemotherapy. In reality, radiation therapy is an established and proven form of therapy. For most cancers, the fundamental local therapies have always been surgery or radiation therapy, with chemotherapy and other systemic therapies further improving results, such that most cancer therapies today involve all these forms of therapies working together to optimize success. Radiation oncology remains a very important and irreplaceable part of cancer treatment.
Are there new developments and new technologies available?
New technologies continue to emerge and evolve, while continuing to improve the outcomes and reduce the side effects of all our therapies, including radiation therapy. In addition, there are new therapies that are looking at ways to cure cancer without the use of traditional radiation therapy, for example our new focused ultrasound technology.
Where is the field of radiation oncology headed?
The field is evolving in several aspects.
First, new technologies continue to improve the precision of therapy delivery.
Second, advances in engineering, physics and tumor imaging allow us to more precisely target tumors that actually move during therapies. For example, these include tumors of the lung.
Third, with the advances in precision we will be able to deliver radiation therapy in a much shorter time period of a few days to a few weeks, versus five to eight weeks.
Fourth, we will probably see more integration of radiation therapy with the newer therapies such as, immunotherapy.
Finally, there will also be developments and advances in the use of tools to better personalize our oncology care. These same tools will be used toward the application of radiation therapy.
What advice do you have for patients recently diagnosed with cancer?
It is very important that you get complete and accurate information once you are diagnosed with cancer. Seek out the opinions of experts. If radiation oncology is mentioned as an option or part of your care, you should request a consultation with a radiation oncologist before you start therapy.
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** Learn more about becoming a patient or getting a second opinion at City of Hope by visiting our website or by calling 800-826-HOPE (4673). You may also request a new patient appointment online. City of Hope staff will explain what's required for a consult at City of Hope and help you determine, before you come in, whether or not your insurance will pay for the appointment.