Hematology oncology is the combination of two separate medical disciplines involving the study of blood and the treatment of cancer. When combined, this specialty treats and prevents blood diseases such hemophilia, sickle cell disease, iron deficiency anemia, various types of thalassemia, lymphomas, leukemias and cancers involving other organs. In this discipline hematologists and oncologists work together to ensure that patients with blood cancers and other life-threatening blood diseases have a comprehensive approach to treatment.
Sub-Specialties Within Hematology Oncology
Some physicians working within the hematology oncology field choose to specialize in caring for children with cancer, hemophilia or sickle-cell disease.
Another sub-specialty is stem-cell transplantation, also known as bone marrow transplantation. Stem-cell transplants decrease the risk for serious infections, anemia and bleeding and can help put some leukemias into remission.
In addition, hematologist-oncologists can also work closely with specialists from other medical fields such as infectious disease, pain medicine, psychology, radiation, pathology and surgery to help understand the role that blood plays in other types of diseases and cancer.
What Hematologists Treat
Hematologists not only treat leukemia, lymphoma and sickle cell disease, they also work with patients who have disorders of white blood cells or platelets, abnormal clotting and bleeding, multiple myeloma, aplastic anemia and other bone marrow failures, Hodgkin’s disease, hairy cell leukemia and related problems.
Hematologists are a type of internist physician. They are called in when diagnoses are unclear or blood disorders are suspected and when specialized medical care is required. Hematologists coordinate patient care and work when needed with surgeons and other medical professionals who participate in clinical research that results in more effective means of treatment.
Not everyone who has a blood disorder needs to see a hematologist as many blood diseases are well managed by general internists. Hematologists are consulted when special knowledge for diagnosis and treatment is required.
Some hematologists maintain a general internal practice as well, but if you are referred to a hematologist by your primary care physician, your hematologist will coordinate treatment with him or her.
What Oncologists Do
Oncologists focus on treating cancer. Within this specialty, physicians can specialize even further to treat certain types of cancers. Hematologist-oncologists focus on blood cancers and often take charge of patient care from the time they are diagnosed through the course of the disease. Your oncologist will explain your diagnosis and disease stage, outline treatment options and recommend the best course of treatment. The oncologist’s job is to deliver optimal care and improve quality of life through therapies and palliative care.
Types of Treatment
Common therapies used to treat blood disorders include, but are not limited to:
Infusions, whereby special medicine or nutrients are injected through a tube into a patient’s body, a little at a time, to give the body time to absorb the substance
Blood transfusions, replacing excessive blood lost through an injury or by having an illness that destroys blood ells such as hemolytic anemia or thrombocytopenia
Biotherapy, which boosts the patient’s immune system and abilities to fight infections or diseases and to heal healthy tissue
Chemotherapy, a systemic treatment whereby drugs travel throughout the whole body to fight disease
Allogeneic Bone Marrow Transplantation that involves replacing damaged bone marrow with healthy bone marrow from a donor
Autologous Stem Cell Transplantation, which uses stem cells from the patient’s own blood prior to chemotherapy or radiation and replaced after treatment
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