There are doctors, nurses and other health professionals who can help you find your way through the health care system, from diagnosis through treatment and recovery.
This information describes the roles of people who may be in your health care team. Not all will be in the hospital or centre where you are being treated (and they may have different titles) but the principle remains the same: get to know who can help you and ask to see them if it’s not offered.
- Cancer care coordinator or clinical nurse consultant
- Social worker
- General Practitioner (GP)
- Other health professionals
Depending on the cancer type and treatment you have, several specialists may treat you, such as a surgeon, medical oncologist, radiation oncologist, haematologist or palliative care specialist. Since they plan and manage your treatment, they can answer your treatment-related questions.
You may think that you have to save all your questions and worries for your specialist. It’s your right to ask your specialist anything you want, but often you have limited time in a consultation so it is best to use that time to talk about treatment. Sometimes it may be helpful to talk to resident medical officers and registrars who can get information from your specialist.
Other staff, such as those listed on the next page, are often more accessible and may be able to help you sooner with questions and concerns. Those staff members can also take your concerns back to the specialist and other people in the treatment team.
Cancer care coordinator or clinical nurse consultant
The cancer care coordinator (CCC) and clinical nurse consultant (CNC) are senior specialist nurses who monitor a patient throughout diagnosis and treatment, and work closely with specialists.
In short, they are a one-stop shop for your needs and are a consistent source of information and support.
There may be CCCs for specific cancer types in large hospitals, while smaller hospitals may have general CCCs. In rural areas, CCCs may come with the visiting oncologist. In hospitals that don’t have either CCCs or CNCs, the Nursing Unit Manager (NUM) may have a similar central role.
The social worker is a vital person in your health care team because they are the primary point of contact for practical issues that affect life outside hospital, such as transport, accommodation, financial assistance, child care and home nursing care. Many social workers also provide emotional support and counselling.
The social worker is the person who can ensure you can access the information and assistance available in your local community. They are good at linking you with people and services who may meet your needs.
Your general practitioner (GP)
It is important you have a good relationship with a GP who knows you and your medical history. Keep your GP informed while you’re being treated in hospital. The treating team should provide information to your GP every time you are discharged, and specialists should send test results to your GP.
You can talk over treatment options with your GP, who can also arrange second opinions. Your GP’s role may vary depending on where you live – for example, rural patients may have much more to do with their GP than those in urban areas.
Other health professionals
There is a wide range of health professionals in the health care system who can help you cope with the physical and emotional stresses of cancer.
- dietitian – supports and educates you about nutrition and diet
- psychologist, counsellor and pastoral worker – help you manage your feelings and cope with changes to your life as a result of cancer treatment
- physiotherapist and occupational therapist – help you return to your normal activities. Physiotherapists can also help with physical side effects, such as lymphoedema.