The Many People on Your Breast Cancer Treatment Team

Your loved ones and an army of health care providers can help you win.

Josette Snyder

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.

Your Physicians

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.

Your Nurses

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 Social Worker

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 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 Diagnostic Team

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 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.

An Army of People

Others on the team may include a pathologist and nuclear medicine specialist.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.