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Cancer Treatment Team

What types of specialists help treat cancer?

The different members of your cancer team offer many kinds of help. They can help you deal with the physical and emotional effects of having cancer.

The treatment team may include:

  • your primary care provider
  • medical oncologist
  • radiation oncologist
  • radiation technologist
  • surgeon
  • oncology nurse
  • dietitian
  • physical therapist
  • pharmacist
  • social worker, psychiatrist, or psychologist
  • patient navigator.

What do these specialists do?

Your primary care provider will keep giving your regular care. He or she will help you manage other health problems you may have, such as high blood pressure or diabetes. Often the primary care provider coordinates treatments and communication with others on your cancer treatment team. It is very important to keep seeing your primary care provider while you are undergoing cancer care.

A medical oncologist is a doctor with special training in the treatment of cancer. He or she sees you after you have been diagnosed with cancer and recommends your cancer treatment. Your oncologist prescribes and follows your chemotherapy. He or she may be a team leader, keeping a check on all treatments and making referrals to other specialists as needed.

Radiation oncologists are doctors with special training in radiation therapy. Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays to shrink or destroy tumors. These doctors determine how much radiation you should get and how often. They also manage the side effects from these treatments. Another type of specialist, the radiation technologist, gives the treatment.

Surgeons are doctors who remove tissue for diagnosis. They may put special catheters (tubes) into the veins for chemotherapy. And they do operations to remove cancerous tissue.

Oncology nurses give nursing care to cancer patients. They give medicine and watch for side effects. They can give tips and advice for dealing with drug side effects and problems caused by the cancer. Nurses may care for you at the hospital, outpatient clinic, or home.

Dietitians can help you know how to get the calories and nutrients you need during your treatment. Proper nutrition can make it easier for your body to fight the cancer. A healthy diet will also help fight the side effects of treatments and any infections you might have. Dietitians can also give tips for improving your appetite if you have nausea or stomach upset.

A physical therapist can design an exercise program to help you keep your strength during and after treatment. Proper exercise can help you adapt to any physical changes your treatment may cause. A physical therapist can help you exercise even if you have to stay in bed or a wheelchair.

Pharmacists prepare the medicines used for your treatment. If you fill all of your prescriptions at the same pharmacy, your regular pharmacist can help you prevent any drug interactions.

Social workers or psychologists help you cope with the stress of illness. They can counsel you and your family. They can help you find a support group. Social workers can help with your hospital discharge. If you need special equipment at home, they can help you find it. Psychiatrists are doctors who can prescribe medicine and provide therapy. They can prescribe treatment for depression, anxiety, or other psychological effects of coping with cancer.

Patient navigators help you as you have your tests and treatments. They may work for the hospital or a local organization. They can help you find the various departments in a large hospital or cancer treatment center. This can be especially helpful if you are traveling a long distance for care. They often can help you find other resources in the community. Ask your healthcare providers if there's a patient navigator where you will be getting your tests and treatments.

Remember that you are the most important member of this team. Don't be afraid to ask questions and get the information you need. Let other members of the team know when you need help and care. If you feel that your team is not listening to you or you are uncomfortable letting them know your needs, it is often helpful to have an advocate. This person is often a family member or friend. They go with you to your appointments and help make your needs and concerns known. This person can also take notes for you at your appointments. Then, when you get home, it is easier to remember what was said at the appointment. In some cases your primary care provider can be your advocate--for example, if there are problems or questions about your cancer care or the interaction of your cancer care with your family situation or your other medical conditions.

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Disclaimer: This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information provided is intended to be informative and educational and is not a replacement for professional medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.

HIA File canc3513.htm Release 13/2010

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