The Cancer Care Team
By Elaine Porterfield
The cancer team helping a patient typically includes surgeons, nurses, technicians, pharmacists, radiologists, pathologists, and other specialists like social workers.
BACK TO: Diagnosis: Cancer
Once a patient is diagnosed with cancer, a diverse range of highly skilled professionals will support treatment:
- Personal physician: For patients who get their health care at a Group Health Medical Centers clinic, a cancer diagnosis often starts in the office of the primary care physician who may order tests and referrals and will stay involved, even as the cancer care team develops a treatment plan.
- Medical oncologist: Physician specializing in diagnosing and treating cancers and tumors with medications such as chemotherapy. They work with surgeons, radiation oncologists, and other specialists to develop treatment plans that may include radiation and surgery.
- Nurses: Nurses of various types — including advanced registered nurse practitioners with prescriptive powers — provide support and information. Some specialize in oncology.
- Social worker: Help with emotional support for patients, families, and caregivers; understanding and navigating diagnosis and treatment options, and solving financial issues.
- Oncology pharmacist: Works in partnership with physicians in chemotherapy, pain management, and the use of other drugs such as antibiotics.
- Radiology, ultrasound, or imaging technician: Provides radiation and imaging services like MRIs to patients.
- Radiation oncologist: Physician who treats cancer with radiation therapy in collaboration with radiation physicists, dosimetrists, and technicians.
- Surgeon: Physicians in multiple specialties who perform certain diagnostic tests, biopsies, and surgeries to treat or prevent cancer.
- Dietician: Helps cancer patients plan optimal diets before, during, and after treatment.
- Physical therapist: Assists in many ways such as strength training, healing, and fatigue management.
Documenting the Power of the Nurse Navigator
If you were diagnosed with cancer, wouldn't it be nice to have someone to help you set up appointments, and make sure you and your family understand what's going on and the complexities of your treatment plan?
Helping with those issues is the role of an oncology nurse navigator. The effectiveness of this role is now under study by the Group Health Research Institute through a pilot at Group Health Medical Centers. It's part of a larger review of this nursing function by the National Cancer Institute.
Oncology nurse navigators are assigned to randomly selected patients with newly diagnosed cases of breast, colorectal, and lung cancer. They provide patient-centered support such as assisting with scheduling tests and consultations, and join with members of the patient's medical team to make sure all patient information is current and understood.
The nurse navigator also helps the patient and family members understand the disease and the care plan. "The whole idea is to facilitate a patient's experience through this very complicated arena by giving them an advocate," oncologist Eric Chen, MD, PhD, says. Results of the pilot will be used in shaping future decisions about cancer care.