Diagnosis: Cancer

Cycle of Hope

Equip Yourself

Cancer Treatment

Treatment Team

Questions to Ask
Healthy Lifestyles

"To beat cancer I needed to be mentally strong…and I got a lot of that from knowing a lot about my disease and knowing a lot about my doctors and knowing that they were the best. I was really at peace with myself because I felt like I was in the best place..."
-- Lance Armstrong

Understanding the Roles of Your Treatment Team

In cycling, the competitor with the best-trained body and most state-of-the-art equipment is not going to win the race unless he is supported by an able and enthusiastic team of riders. For people with cancer, those support riders make up the treatment team, a group of specialists whose job is to get you well.

Today's medical world is highly specialized, with doctors, technicians, and nurses competent in a chosen area of expertise. As a result, patients are better off with several medical specialists on their treatment team.

Three major players provide the backbone of the treatment team
-- the medical oncologist, the surgical oncologist and the radiation therapy oncologist -- with many others in key supporting roles. For most, the medical oncologist should be the lead support rider, the individual who oversees your case and helps determine your journey's course. Since oncologists are in the business of treating cancer, they are current with the latest ways to treat it. Your oncologist should also act as your "informational advocate." As you research your disease, your oncologist can help you understand the complicated information. Your oncologist will also monitor your body's response to treatment and make necessary adjustments. He can give you highly specialized advice and recommendations for radiation therapy oncologists, surgical oncologists or other key specialists. He should be board certified and affiliated with a hospital or outpatient center that is convenient for you.

If surgery is required in your case, get a recommendation for a surgical oncologist from your medical oncologist or primary care physician. Communication about your care is easier if your specialists have a working relationship. You want your surgical oncologist to be board certified and accredited with the American College of Surgeons.

Your medical or surgical oncologist can recommend a radiation therapy oncologist. The radiation therapy oncologist will decide if radiation is an appropriate treatment for your cancer. If radiation is appropriate, the radiation therapy oncologist will choose the best treatment for you and administer and monitor it.

Other members of your treatment team include your family physician, oncology nurses, radiation therapists, nurse practitioners, psychologists, certified cancer social workers and technicians who support the doctors. Often, these are the individuals caring for you on a regular basis and are a source of practical information and comfort. The primary care, or family physician, provides the initial diagnosis and, in most cases, joins you on your journey by staying informed, giving referrals, and serving as a sounding board when decisions need to be made. Your physician is familiar with your family and medical history and, most important, knows you best.

Your treatment team's goal is to provide you with the best possible care. While doing so, however, the team players need to understand that your physical and emotional comfort levels are equally important. Keep this in mind when you are selecting your physicians. You want individuals who not only are knowledgeable, but who are caring and considerate. You also want physicians who will communicate information clearly and respond to calls and requests from you and your family. These are trying times for you and you want doctors who value your feelings.