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Your cancer care team

As part of your cancer treatment plan, you will likely work with a team of health care providers. Learn about the types of providers you may work with and what they do.

Oncologists

Oncology is the field of medicine that covers cancer care and treatment. A doctor who works in this field is called an oncologist. There are several types of oncologists. They may have titles based on who or what they treat. For instance, a pediatric oncologist treats cancer in children. A gynecologic oncologist treats cancer in women's reproductive organs.

Oncologists may also have titles based on the type of treatment they use. These oncologists include:

  • Medical oncologist. A doctor who diagnoses cancer and treats it using medicine. These drugs can include chemotherapy. Your primary cancer doctor may be a medical oncologist.
  • Radiation oncologist. A doctor who uses radiation to treat cancer. Radiation is used to either kill cancer cells, or damage them so that they cannot grow any more.
  • Surgical oncologist. A doctor who treats cancer using surgery. Surgery can be used to remove cancer tumors from the body.

Other Cancer Care Providers

Other members of your cancer care team may include the following:

  • Anesthesiologist. A doctor who provides medicine that keeps people from feeling pain. Anesthesia is most often used during surgery. When you have surgery, it puts you into a deep sleep. You will not feel anything or remember the surgery afterward.
  • Case manager. A provider who oversees your cancer care from diagnosis through recovery. They work with you and your whole care team to help make sure you have the health care services and resources you need.
  • Genetic counselor. A provider who can help you make decisions about hereditary cancer (cancer passed down through your genes). A genetic counselor can help you or your family members decide if you want to get tested for these types of cancer. A counselor can also help you make decisions based on test results.
  • Nurse practitioners. A nurse with a graduate degree in advanced practice nursing. A nurse practitioner will work along with your cancer doctors to provide your care, in the clinic, and in the hospital.
  • Patient navigators. A provider who will work with you and your family to help you with all aspects of getting health care. This includes finding health care providers, helping with insurance issues, helping with paperwork, and explaining your health care or treatment options. The goal is to help you overcome any barriers to getting the best care possible.
  • Oncology social worker. A provider who can help you and your family deal with emotional and social issues. An oncology social worker can connect you with resources and help you with any insurance problems. They can also provide guidance on how to cope with cancer and how to make arrangements about your treatment.
  • Pathologist. A doctor who diagnoses diseases using tests in a laboratory. They can look at tissue samples under a microscope to see if they contain cancer. A pathologist can also find out what stage the cancer is in.
  • Radiologist. A doctor who performs and explains tests such as x-rays, CT scans, and MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging). A radiologist uses these types of tests to diagnose and stage diseases.
  • Registered dietitian (RD). A provider who is an expert in food and nutrition. An RD can help create a diet for you that will help keep you strong during cancer treatment. When your cancer treatment is done, an RD can also help you find foods that will help your body heal.

Working with Your Care Team

Each member of your care team plays an important role. But it may be hard to keep track of what each person does for you. DO NOT hesitate to ask someone what they do and how they will help you. This can help you understand your care plan better and feel more in control of your treatment.

References

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Nutrition during and after cancer treatment. Updated June 2016. www.eatright.org/resource/health/diseases-and-conditions/cancer/nutrition-during-and-after-cancer-treatment. Accessed July 15, 2016.

American College of Radiology. What is a radiologist? ACR.org. www.acr.org/Quality-Safety/Radiology-Safety/Patient-Resources/About-Radiology. Accessed July 15, 2016.

Mayer RS. Rehabilitation of Individuals with Cancer. In: Niederhuber JE, Armitage JO, Doroshow JH, Kastan MB, Tepper JE, eds. Abeloff's Clinical Oncology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA. Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 55.

National Cancer Institute. Cancer genetics risk assessment and counseling. Updated July 28, 2016. Cancer.gov. www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/genetics/risk-assessment-and-counseling/HealthProfessional/page1. Accessed August 3, 2016.

National Cancer Institute. Pathology Reports. Cancer.gov. Updated September 23, 2010. www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/detection/pathology-reports. Accessed August 3, 2016.

National Cancer Institute. People in health care. Cancer.gov. Updated March 10, 2015. www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/managing-care/services/providers. Accessed August 3, 2016.

Review Date 10/22/2014

Updated by: Christine Zhang, MD, Medical Oncologist, Fresno, CA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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