Your Healthcare Team
Build your team
Among the most important decisions that you will make along your journey is who the members of your healthcare team will be. It is easy to become a passive observer as your healthcare team is assembling if you have just been diagnosed with a life-altering condition.
Perhaps you have regular checkups at a primary care physician who takes your insurance and is convenient to your work. And then you see specialists and attend clinics and hospitals recommended by this doctor. Before you know it, this group of individuals, who will play an essential role in determining the course of your journey and its success, has been put together without much input at all from its most important member: you
Your Treatment Team and what you should know
Lung cancer can cause a great deal of uncertainty, but there is a team of highly trained professionals whose job it is to help you with these difficult times. The number of people you meet and the information you receive about therapy can be overwhelming and confusing. The information below will introduce you to members of the cancer care team and provide a short list of questions to ask them about your treatment.
The Multi-Disciplinary Lung Cancer Team
(As a disclaimer) It is very important to inform each of your healthcare providers about all of the treatment approaches you are using. This is particularly important if you choose an integrative medicine approach that involves healthcare providers or treatments from several different medical providers.
Medical oncologists are physicians who specialize in systemic therapy (i.e. chemotherapy) for the treatment of cancer. You may encounter them in the outpatient clinic or in the hospital. They will determine if you are a candidate for chemotherapy, what type of chemotherapy you will receive and the duration of your treatment. They will frequently monitor your condition while you are receiving chemotherapy and help minimize the side effects of treatment.
Questions to ask your medical oncologist:
- Am I a candidate for chemotherapy?
- What type of chemotherapy will I receive and how long will the treatment last?
- What are the possible side effects of chemotherapy?
Radiation oncologists are physicians who specialize in the use of radiation therapy to treat cancer. Their focus is to design a treatment plan and direct radiation therapy. Radiation oncologists work closely with an array of other health care providers including: radiation oncology nurses, medical physicists, radiation therapists and dosimetrists. They will help you choose the most effective radiation therapy for your cancer.
Questions to ask your radiation oncologist:
- Am I candidate for radiation?
- What is my treatment regimen and how long will it last?
- What are the possible side effects of radiation therapy?
Thoracic surgeons are physicians who specialize in chest surgery, which includes the chest wall, mediastinum, lungs, esophagus and diaphragm. They perform diagnostic proce?dures and surgical treatment for patients with lung cancer. During your evaluation, the surgeons will assess how fit you are for surgery. This may involve obtaining laboratory tests or specialized studies. Prior to treatment, they will discuss the options for surgery and be the primary physicians managing your care in the hospital after surgery.
Questions to ask your Thoracic Surgeons:
- Is my tumor resectable?
- Am I a candidate for surgery?
- What are the risks, benefits and alternatives to surgery?
- What is my recovery time in the hospital and at home?
A pulmonologist is a physician who specializes in diseases of the airway and lungs. If you are found to have a spot (or nodule) on your lungs on chest x-ray or a CT scan, they may be the first physicians you will see in consultation. Their focus is to help determine if the nodule is a lung cancer and aid in obtaining a diagnosis. This includes performing various procedures such as bronchoscopy and biopsies.
A radiologist is a physician who specializes in reading body imaging (x-rays, computed tomography (CT) scans and Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scans). They aid in diagnosis of lung cancer and can perform CT-guided biopsies of tumors.
A pathologist is a physician who specializes in the anatomic, cellular and chemical changes that occur with diseases. Their role in lung cancer is to provide a diagnosis by examining tissue under a microscope.
Mid-Level Providers: Physician Assistant & Nurse Practitioner
Physician assistants (PA) and nurse practitioners (NP) are medical professionals who work as part of the care team both in the outpatient clinic and in the hospital setting. In addition to assisting with your treatment, they are great resources for information and can be a direct line of communication to your physicians.
Nurse Navigator / Social Worker
A nurse navigator is a trained nurse who works with you, your family and your local doctor to guide you through the patient care process.
A social worker is a healthcare team member with psychology training who helps patients deal with mental, emotional and daily living issues.
Oncology Registered Dietitian
An oncology registered dietitian helps to address nutrition issues that become barriers to healing in treatment.