Learning that you have breast cancer can make you feel terribly isolated. Suddenly you find yourself in a new, unfamiliar world. But you are not alone.
The best cancer treatment today embraces interdisciplinary patient care, and uses a broad approach with a team of health care and medical providers – all of whom are watching out for you.
Take a few minutes to think about the many people who surround you and want to help you through treatment into survivorship. Who is on your team?
Your physicians are the medical experts who are in charge of your treatment plan. They will discuss the risks and benefits of the plan, answer your questions, and provide information.
One doctor, usually your medical oncologist, coordinates your care with the other team members. The medical oncologist usually specializes in a type of cancer, such as breast cancer. Others physicians on the team include:
Breast surgeon– Removes cancer using surgical techniques or approaches that may include breast conservation or lumpectomy.
Radiation oncologist – Prescribes and oversees radiation therapy to shrink or eliminate tumors.
Psychologists and psychiatrists– Treat anxiety or depression during cancer treatment or after treatment ends. Psychiatrists can prescribe medicines to help in therapy.
Plastic surgeons – Specializes in reducing scarring, improving appearances or reconstructing body tissue that may be lost as a result of breast cancer treatment.
Your family physician, or general practitioner– An important resource for you and your family, by providing an empathetic and credible source of information, support and advice.
Whether you’re being treated as an in-patient or out-patient, clinical nurses are the ones you can go to with questions about the day-to-day issues and the practical matters of dealing with breast cancer treatment.
Nurses will be there every step of the way during your treatment, such as chemotherapy, radiation, surgery and physician visits, among others.
Many nurses, such as oncology nurses, have specialized training or advanced education and provide a variety of health care services. They provide important feedback to other members of your cancer care team.
A nurse is someone who can tell you what to expect, how to stay comfortable and how to manage cancer-related pain and other symptoms or treatment side effects. Your nurses also can be an important sounding board for your concerns and fears.
Your nurses are very knowledgeable about the details and nuances of navigating the breast cancer terrain because they are always talking to patients. With their accumulated wealth of patient information, your nurses are a powerful ally.
Your Social Worker
Your oncology social worker is a licensed professional who can help with the counseling, support and advocacy needs of breast cancer patients and their families.
The counseling your social worker provides can help you or a loved one adjust to the breast cancer diagnosis, communicate with your children, family or doctors and cope with the changes in self-image and sexuality, among other issues. Support can include referrals to resources for nutrition, complementary therapies, spiritual guidance and home health care.
Your social worker also is your advocate, and can help you navigate the health care system, get prescriptions and get transportation to treatment, among a number of other services.
Your Diagnostic Team
Your diagnostic team uses test results to identify the type and location and extent of breast cancer. The team includes health care professionals such as:
Radiologist – Uses medical imaging technology, such as x-rays, CT, MRI or ultrasound, to examine organs and other internal structures. Radiologists also interpret information from these tests to help others on the team make an accurate diagnosis.
Genetics specialist -- Uses laboratory tests to determine genetic code that can provide a more precise risk estimate of developing breast cancer. Genetics specialists also use such biological markers to predict a cancer patient’s response to certain medical treatments.
Others on the team may include a pathologist and nuclear medicine specialist.
An Army of People
All the medical professionals working together on your behalf are one team, rallying with you against breast cancer. You don’t have to face cancer alone.
Physical Therapist with lymphedema training must be a part of the breast cancer team. It is a fact that lymphedema of the upper extremity and/or lymphedema of the breast affects 10-40% of breast cancer survivors. Some breast cancer treatment decisions, made by the patient and her treatment team, will affect the health and quality of life of the patient for the rest of her life. These decisions often involve a trade off between risk of recurrence versus risk of lymphedema, and current information on both must be made available to the patient before an informed decision is made. Issues such as extent and type of surgery, necessity for adjuvent radiotherapy, desirability for hormonal therapy, type of reconstruction and desirability for lymph node transfer, risk of taxanes, current lymphedema treatment protocols, etc. must be discussed before therapy is started so as to balance the success of immediate treatment with the risks of lifelong lymphedema.
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