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Physics applications in cancer research/treatment

  1. Apr 26, 2015 #1
    I am a third year undergraduate physics major. Often time people ask what I want to do with physics, and I didn't really have an answer for them. I guess I always assumed I'd pursue a masters degree in some kind of engineering, but I want to be able to do something that I'm passionate about. Something that has impacted my life tremendously has been cancer, and I would like to eventually work on developing better treatment methods for the disease.
    What fields of physics would I need to get into in order to work on developing either treatment methods or machinery used in treatment? Could you also provide some examples in which physics research is being used in medical treatments? Thank you
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 26, 2015 #2
    You may want to look into medical physics.
  4. Apr 26, 2015 #3


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    There are a lot of different branches of physics that have applications to cancer therapy. Medical physics is the most immediate branch. About 80% of medical physicists are involved in radiation oncology and the majority of those play a direct clinical role - supporting day-to-day clinical operations, commissioning new equipment, developing new procedures, planning treatments, running QA programs, etc. The other 20% or so work in diagnostic imaging, MRI, nuclear medicine, radiation protection or some combination. Examples of some interesting research going on right now in the field can be found here: PMB Highlights 2014.

    Advances in cancer diagnosis and treatment can also from other branches of physics (the border of where medical physics stops and other branches begin is very fuzzy - particularly once you step outside of the clinical profession) . Some examples that come to mind include:
    • breath analysis using laser spectroscopic techniques for early cancer detection
    • modeling of disease progression and response
    • modeling the kinetics of drug delivery
    • nano-material research
    • techniques for http://scitation.aip.org/content/aip/magazine/physicstoday/article/67/2/10.1063/PT.3.2275 [Broken]
    • all the work coming out of the NCI's http://scitation.aip.org/content/aip/magazine/physicstoday/article/67/11/10.1063/PT.3.2578 [Broken]
    Last edited by a moderator: May 7, 2017
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