If you’ve just been diagnosed with cancer, you might be overwhelmed, confused, and scared. You’re getting a lot of information about your type of cancer, possible treatments, and who will be part of your care team.
Cancer is a difficult disease, and treatment can be complex. Because of that, a cancer care team can include medical professionals with a wide variety of specialties.
You may meet many of these professionals during your cancer journey, and it can be hard to keep up. This guide to your cancer care team can help you navigate through this trying time.
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What Is an Oncologist?
The lead doctor on a cancer care team is your oncologist. Oncologists diagnose and treat your cancer, but their role goes beyond that. They also manage your case, design your treatment plan, and provide follow-up care.
Oncologists can explain the type and stage of your cancer, treatment options, and more. They remain with you throughout your treatment, managing side effects and providing other necessary care.
There are several different types of oncologists, and you may see more than one of them during your cancer journey:
- Medical oncologist: Uses chemotherapy and other drugs to treat your cancer.
- Surgical oncologist: Uses surgery to treat or remove cancer.
- Radiation oncologist: Treats cancer with radiation therapy.
- Gynecologic oncologist: Specializes in cancers of the female reproductive organs, including uterine, ovarian, and cervical cancer.
- Pediatric oncologist: Specializes in treating cancer in children. Some types of cancer affect children in higher numbers.
- Hematologist: Specializes in blood cancers like leukemia, lymphoma, and myeloma.
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Key Members of a Cancer Care Team
Your oncologist will lead your cancer care team, a multidisciplinary group of health care professionals that includes specialists from many different areas of medicine.
- Oncology nurse: Along with your oncologist, your oncology nurse is your main care provider. He or she works with your doctor to treat your cancer, manage your physical and mental care, and provide support and information to you and your loved ones. Oncology nurses are specifically trained to work with cancer patients.
- Oncology fellow: An oncology fellow is a fully trained doctor who works with your oncologist. He or she is in a fellowship program to learn more about the medical or surgical aspects of cancer care.
- Nurse practitioner (NP) and physician assistant (PA): These medical professionals are specially trained and work under your oncologist and oncology fellow. They help with or perform treatments, procedures, and physical exams.
- Oncology clinical nurse specialist: A clinical nurse specialist who is trained to care for patients whose treatment includes new or complex oncology procedures. He or she works with your primary oncology nurse to provide comprehensive care.
- Pathologist: Pathologists are a key part of cancer diagnosis. They study tissue samples or fluids to see if cancer cells are there and identify the type.
- Radiologist: Another key member in diagnosis, radiologists evaluate scans of your body, including x-rays and ultrasounds, to see if cancer is present.
Other Members of a Cancer Care Team
Oncologists and the team of specialists who work with them are at the forefront of cancer care.
However, your cancer journey can impact many aspects of your life: physical, emotional, or environmental. Because of that, you may see many other care providers during the course of your cancer treatment.
- Dietitian/nutritionist: During your cancer treatment, you may have specific dietary needs. Your treatment may cause side effects like nausea and weight loss. Dietitians and nutritionists can work with you to develop a diet that ensures you get the nutrients you need.
- Oncology social worker: Specially trained to provide counseling and support to cancer patients and families, they also can help with financial, housing, or child care problems. If you are feeling emotional distress, they can offer counseling or find you resources.
- Psychiatrist: Help cancer patients cope if they feel anxious or depressed. He or she is can prescribe medications for emotional disorders.
- Psychologist:: Provides counseling and support for cancer patients and their families. Options include behavioral therapy, group and individual therapy, stress management training, psychiatric consultations, and more.
- Pharmacist: Can prepare and provide information about the drugs you receive during treatment. They also can coordinate with your local pharmacy about your prescriptions.
- Phlebotomist: Manages all blood samples throughout your cancer treatment.
- Medical assistant/patient service technician: Help nurses by making sure supplies and equipment are available. They often interact with you directly, taking vital signs, getting weight and other measurements, and asking questions about how you’re feeling.
- Clinical director/nursing coordinator: Help manage patient care services. They can help coordinate the care between multiple doctors and solve problems that might come up.
- Clinical research coordinator: If you are involved in a clinical trial, a clinical research coordinator will arrange your participation, follow your progress, and check in with your oncology team.
- Financial counselor: Helps manage your insurance coverage and billing, and details the cost of care.
Cancer is a difficult disease that can affect more than just your body. The members of your cancer care team are there to help you at every step of your cancer journey.
For more information, call UPMC Hillman Cancer Center at 855-986-1167 or visit us online.
UPMC Hillman Cancer Center provides world-class cancer care, from diagnosis to treatment, to help you in your cancer battle. We are the only comprehensive cancer center in our region, as designated by the National Cancer Institute. We have more than 70 locations throughout Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, and Maryland, with more than 200 oncologists. Our internationally renowned research team is striving to find new advances in prevention, detection, and treatment.